RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Millions more North Carolinians still must get their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine to meet state leaders’ goal of having two-thirds of adults at least partially vaccinated — and to trigger the end of the indoor mask mandate, a CBS17.com data analysis found.
“Clearly, a part of it is an incentive, isn’t it?” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University’s school of medicine.
“And this is a real incentive, that if we as a community can continue to do a good job at getting vaccinated, then our need to, frankly, use masks drops away. Our need to be as isolated drops away, because COVID will drop away.”
NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said earlier this week that the indoor mask mandate will be lifted once at least two thirds of adults have had at least one shot and the other trends remain stable.
“We know folks want to get rid of those masks. I want to get rid of those masks,” Cohen said in an interview with CBS 17 News. “So if we get enough folks vaccinated, if we can get two thirds of adults vaccinated, then we know we can lift the indoor mask mandate as well.”
But getting there could take months, even if the unvaccinated across the state pick up the pace.
A total of 49 percent of North Carolina’s adults are partially vaccinated, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday. That means millions more — another 17 percent — of them still must get either the first shot of the two-dose vaccines or the single-shot product from Johnson & Johnson.
Here’s how the math works.
There are about 8.2 million people 18 and older in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Two thirds of them works out to about 5.5 million, and DHHS says nearly 3.3 million are vaccinated with at least one dose.
That leaves 2.2 million North Carolinians — many of whom likely still must be convinced to get the shot or shots that trials have shown to be 90 percent effective or better.
So, how long could it take?
If the state were to return to its pace from earlier this month, when more than 200,000 first doses were given each week, it would take about 11 weeks to bring that percentage high enough — putting the target time into July.
But that pace has slowed dramatically over the past few weeks, dropping to just over 86,000 first doses given last week, state data show. At that rate, it would take more than twice as long — into October.
“This is almost a challenge for folks, to be honest,” Wolfe said.
Cohen says she hopes that number climbs faster as the state makes it as easy as possible for the unvaccinated to get their shots by making it available at local pharmacies.
“We’re hopeful as folks are realizing that we have a lot of supply of vaccine, that it’s easy to get, it’s close to their home, that they know it’s safe, it’s free, it’s effective, we hope that more folks are going to make sure to make time to get their vaccine,” Cohen said.
Though the state is tying the indoor mask mandate to the partial vaccination rate, a number of other restrictions will be lifted June 1, including mandatory social distancing, capacity and mass gathering rules.
“We are continuing to make progress. And we want to acknowledge that progress,” Cohen said. “We’re moving in the right direction. We can make those steps in terms of lifting restrictions.”
CDC data shows North Carolina ranks 38th nationally in terms of that specific figure — the percentage of people 18 and over who are at least partially vaccinated. Only three Northeastern states — New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut — would meet the DHHS goal today, the data show.
Cohen says it shows the state still has work to do in the vaccination process.
And Wolfe says to get those numbers up, it may be appropriate to exert some peer pressure on the holdouts.
“Why not go out and tell your friends who’ve been sitting on the fence — challenge them?” he said. “Give them a rib up, say, ‘Hi, we all want to get back to some level of normality.’ And then if we get to two thirds, then I think we can really start celebrating. We’re obviously a ways away away from that stuff.”