Editorial: Elected officials have relevant advocacy role, too

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 18, 2021

With COVID-19 vaccines, there’s a lot easily said. But it’s hard to translate words into action.

The miracle of safe, effective vaccines being available to the public has faced the challenge of limited supply since shots started being administered. A few hundred shots here and there won’t get a large-enough portion of the population vaccinated this year to permanently end coronavirus-related restrictions.

It’s a challenge that employees at local health departments and hospital systems struggle with daily in 2021. They have plans and staff to administer hundreds or thousands of vaccines per day, but supplies produced by manufacturers remain limited. Even a few million vaccines per day isn’t much when it needs to spread over the entire country.

The limited supply is why county commissioners on Monday may have needed a wider audience for their message.

Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds’ leadership has rallied groups of people from across the community behind common causes — all with the central theme of getting everyone rowing together toward the top spot in every possible measurement. And on Monday, he offered a little of the same inspiration he’s become known for in trying to get people to collaborate around issues that make the community a better place to live.

“Either we sit back and accept our 300 and we go quietly into the night, or we try to get as many as 3,000 a week or, on the behalf of the folks of the county, what do we have to do to outperform what we’re doing? It may be thinking much bigger than we are,” he said.

He’s mostly right. The county needs to continue working to secure more vaccines than it might otherwise, particularly because the community often shows up below average or near the bottom whenever rankings focused on health matters are released. Last year, the county slid from the middle in annual county health rankings to just shy of the bottom quarter in the state. Life expectancy in Rowan County was 2.8 years lower than the state average and adult obesity was 7% worse. That means the average Rowan Countian is more susceptible than the average North Carolinian for a severe case of COVID-19.

But there is a job here for elected officials, too, including at the local, state and federal levels. U.S. Rep. Ted Budd offered a good suggestion in the form of a budget amendment to disregard phases when vaccines might otherwise expire, but that only helps in certain circumstances. Just as they advocate for funding for community projects, elected officials need to aid health care professionals in speaking loudly about the need for more vaccines in communities where the population is more vulnerable.

Edds’ speech might have been intended for county officials, but it’s also time to ask the community’s representatives in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., “What do we have to do to outperform what we’re doing?”