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Editorial: Vaccination efforts off to too-slow start

Nearly one month ago, the first people in Rowan County received part one of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

But fewer than 4,000 people have been vaccinated since then — a terribly disappointing mark. Using state data ending on Monday, Rowan County is averaging somewhere around 113 COVID-19 vaccinations administered per day.

The blame for the trickle of vaccines administered lies with powers much higher than the Rowan County Health Department. The model local folks have developed for mass vaccinations — a drive-thru at West End Plaza — gets the job done about as efficiently and quickly as could be expected considering limitations and the fact that vaccines must be administered several hours after opening.

Appointments of some type remain worth considering, but appointments will neither be a panacea nor do anything to solve the larger and more important issue: the trickle of vaccines — a few hundred here and several hundred there — must become a torrent if there’s any hope of vaccinating a significant portion of the population this year.

Consider that about 25,434 people currently meet the age criteria in Rowan County, according to the U.S. Census. Vaccinating every one of them would require roughly 51,000 doses. But even fully vaccinating half is a tall task. This week, the Rowan County Health Department received 800 vaccines. At that pace, it would take somewhere around 30 weeks to fully vaccinate half of the Rowan residents who are 65 and older, putting the calendar well into August.

Numbers remain daunting even if supplies and opportunities to be vaccinated increase. Fully vaccinating half of the county’s population by Aug. 1, for example, would require about the same number of vaccines per day as those administered Wednesday. Doing the same by the end of the year cuts things in half, but still requires thousands of doses per week. Nowhere near that number is coming Rowan County’s way now.

Unless the size of shipments increase significantly or massive, nearby venues become vaccination hubs, there are realistic scenarios where Rowan County is still trickling along in administering vaccines and some COVID-19 restrictions remain in place at the end of the year. An announcement last week about administering 1 million vaccinations by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atrium Health, Tepper Sports and Entertainment (whose namesake owns the Carolina Panthers), Honeywell and the state of North Carolina provides optimism. The Charlotte Motor Speedway is a vaccination site this weekend, but appointments for the event are full.

Still, state and federal elected leaders have a duty to demand answers and provide transparency for the public about why the rollout has moved along so slow. Gov. Roy Cooper must ensure vaccine doses are being distributed equitably, particularly among counties with higher-risk populations. Rep. Richard Hudson, whose district covers most of Kannapolis, should use his position on the Energy and Commerce Committee to ask tough questions about whether government is standing in the way of vaccine production or needs to do more to allow companies to produce enough doses. Sen. Carl Ford, a Republican who represents Rowan and Stanly County in the state Senate, should ask why Davie County is vastly outpacing Stanly County in vaccines administered (2,837 vs. 988). As the newly sworn-in president, Joe Biden and his administration bear a large burden for getting things on track.

As Rowan County has shown, the country’s mass vaccination effort is getting off to a too-slow start. It’s time to get the country up to speed.

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