QUESTION: Why can’t 65- to 74-year-olds get the coronavirus vaccine in Alamance County even though they are part of the group that’s eligible to receive it under the state’s staggered inoculation schedule? Why are other counties administering the vaccine to people in this same age range? Who made the decision to postpone the inoculation of these folks in Alamance County? When can area residents between the ages of 65 and 74 expect to be vaccinated?
ANSWER: Readers of this newspaper aren’t the only ones with a rash of questions about Alamance County’s vaccination schedule for COVID-19. Many of the same puzzlers have also gripped the county’s board of commissioners, whose members had an opportunity to address these uncertainties earlier this week during a routine update from the county’s health director.
During his latest semimonthly briefing on Monday, the county’s health director Tony Lo Giudice fielded a number of vaccination-related inquiries from the commissioners. In fact, Lo Giudice received several questions about the inoculation of 65- to 74-year-olds from commissioner Bill Lashley – who, among other things, found himself wondering, when the county will get around to this particular age group.
Lo Giudice ultimately offered the commissioners some reasonably good news in response to this particular query.
The county’s health director acknowledged that he and his colleagues are currently still limiting the vaccine to healthcare workers, who comprise the first group in the state’s inoculation plan, and members of the general public who are over 75 years in age. Lo Giudice nevertheless added that the health department could start to offer the vaccine to younger seniors as soon as next week.
“It’s a good possibility we’ll be ready to move that figure down to 65 into next week,” he said in response to Lashley’s inquiries.
Lo Giudice subsequently clarified that he expects the transition to take place “one to three weeks from now.” He added that the local health department will, in the end, make the decision based on several “metrics.” One figure that he said his agency monitors closely is the number of doses that it currently administers. The health department has also been watching the state’s vaccination tally for Alamance County – which, as of January 28, showed 10,491 people who’d been inoculated. Lo Giudice added that things currently look promising on both of these fronts.
Lo Giudice said that another significant factor is the number of private health providers who have received the state’s clearance to administer the vaccine in Alamance County. He added that, in the past week alone, four additional providers obtained this approval, which he hailed as a particularly promising development.
“Now, this does not necessarily mean that there’s enough in supply for them to have vaccine right now,” he told the commissioners. “But what it does mean is that when we have extra supply, we can transfer to them so they can assist us in getting shots in arms.”
By the numbers
Lo Giudice said that, since the local health department began to administer the vaccine in December, it had received a paper allotment of 6,850 doses of the vaccine. He added that its nurses have managed to squeeze out some additional serum from this state allocation, allowing them to administer a total of 6,869 shots and fully inoculating 2,183 people with the recommended two doses, spaced roughly a month apart. Lo Giudice added that, when private providers such as Cone Health are also thrown into the mix, the vaccination tally for Alamance County rises to 10,491 doses – with 2,259 having received both shots as of January 28.
Lo Giudice told the commissioners that the local health department expects to receive a “baseline allocation” of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine sometime this week as well as another 200 doses made by Moderna. He added that the state may soon have a third option to pass along to local public health authorities thanks to Johnson & Johnson’s development of a vaccine that has proven 72 percent effective in trials within the U.S. He added that Johnson & Johnson could seek expedited federal approval for its serum as soon as this week and may have the vaccine on the market in March.
In spite of these positive developments, Lo Giudice acknowledged that COVID-19 remains a very real threat to area residents. He said that, as of Sunday, the county had 1,276 active cases of the infection and “outbreaks” of two or more cases within the past 30 days at eight nursing homes, eight residential care facilities, and one long-term care facility. As of Sunday, the county had reported a total of 213 deaths due to COVID-19. On a more positive note, Lo Giudice said that the county’s rate of positive coronavirus tests has dropped to 11.3 percent from its high of 14.9 percent in the first week of January.
Lo Giudice told the commissioners that, based on the county’s current vaccine allocation, it would take “weeks if not months” to inoculate the 19,000 additional people who’d be eligible for the shots when the cutoff is lowered to 65. He also found it hard to speculate when the county will be ready to move on to the third group in the state’s vaccination schedule, which includes many so-called “essential employees,” including public school teachers.
Although the state has yet to give local authorities the go-head to begin inoculating people in Group 3, Steve Carter, the vice chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, observed that some counties have administered the vaccine to educators who otherwise qualify for the shots based on their age. Lo Giudice conceded that a few counties have, indeed, inoculated teachers because they had extra doses of the vaccine, which would’ve been wasted if not given to someone.
“We have not found ourselves in that situation,” the health director added. “Our demand is still through the roof.”
Carter nevertheless suggested that the county ought to let teachers jump to the front of the queue in order to get “our schools running again.” Lo Giudice went on to assure him and his fellow commissioners that he has detailed one of his subordinates to help the local school system develop a vaccination plan for its faculty.
Meanwhile, commissioner Pamela Thompson, who previously served on the Alamance-Burlington school board, made an emotional appeal for the swift inoculation of teachers so that the school system can phase out its current practice of “remote learning.”
“I’m just concerned about us getting teachers vaccinated,” she lamented. “Everybody is breaking [from having classes online] because this isn’t how school is supposed to be.”