Here’s why Meck County’s vaccination rate lags behind neighboring counties

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — COVID-19 vaccine demand in Mecklenburg County remains incredibly high. Appointments for shots in Charlotte often fill up in minutes, not hours, and many residents are traveling to other counties to get vaccinated as a result.

If able to do so, Health Director Gibbie Harris said that is a good strategy to get a shot.

“We want as many people in Mecklenburg County that we can get vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Harris said. “If they can get it by going to another county, then go for it. You don’t have to get it from us, we just want them vaccinated.”

Last week, more than 600 available appointments for vaccines at the Bojangles Coliseum were booked in less than five minutes. The county, along with Charlotte’s two hospital systems and other vaccine partners, get rid of all of the doses they get weekly.

“We report to the state every week how much we have left in our allocations and there has been none,” Harris said. “It is not like we are sitting on vaccine that is not going into people’s arms. It is. We can only give the vaccine we have.”

Despite the incredible demand for vaccines in Mecklenburg County, the county continues to lag behind neighboring counties in vaccination rate.

According to NCDHHS, only 10.5% of Mecklenburg County is fully vaccinated. That is slightly better than neighboring Cabarrus and Rowan counties, which report 10.1% and 9.9% rates respectively. But it trails most all other neighboring counties, including Union (11.1%), Gaston (11.6%), Lincoln (12.2%) and Iredell (12.3%).

Wake County’s rate is 13.7%.

For partial vaccination rates -- meaning at least one dose -- Mecklenburg (16.8%) fares better than Union (16.6%) but still trails Gaston (17.4%), Lincoln (18.3%), Iredell (17.5%) and Wake (22.5%).

Harris attributes the county’s lag to several factors.

She said the county got off to a slow start for being one of the first to host mass vaccination events. At the time, vaccinations weren’t widely available everywhere. The mass vaccination events attracted, and continue to attract, people living in all parts of the state. When someone receives a shot, they are counted in their home county’s figures, not the county they received the COVID-19 vaccine.

According to Harris, the state was prioritizing central North Carolina for COVID-19 vaccine allocation. That is about to change, she says. North Carolina DHHS has revised the allocation process to focus more on counties with lower vaccination rates.

Harris said the county is just now starting to see more vaccine available. It will take several weeks to see Mecklenburg’s vaccination rate improve as a result.

“We will continue to get every drip, drab, drop of vaccine out as quickly as we get it in and hopefully we are going to see our percentage numbers improve in the next few weeks,” Harris said.

Mecklenburg County has requested 1,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson per week. The county intends to use Johnson & Johnson doses on groups it would be tough to coordinate a second dose with, like people who are homeless, homebound or incarcerated.

Mecklenburg County finds out vaccine allocation on Thursday evenings. While Harris is happy people are finding appointments in nearby counties for shots, she notes it is troubling that the demand for the vaccine in rural counties may not be high.

“We want people outside of Mecklenburg County to get vaccinated as well. There are no fences on county lines. Some of those people come in to Mecklenburg County to work and some to shop,” she said. “We have other people coming into our county and we want them to be vaccinated as well.”

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