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Editorial: State likely in for future without herd immunity

From a community like Salisbury and Rowan County, it’s hard to see a future where two-thirds of the state’s population receives at least one dose of the COVID-19 and the governor meets his goal to lift mask mandates.

State and federal data show about 30% of Rowan residents vaccinated with one dose — a far cry from the 66% needed and noticeably below the state average. It’s downright depressing to compare Rowan County to some of the communities with the highest portion of their population vaccinated. In Orange County, which contains Chapel Hill and UNC, the percentage of people vaccinated with one dose is 57.9%. In Dare County, located on the coast, the percentage is 56.7%.

Even if the best-performing counties reach herd immunity levels, there are plenty of places just like Rowan — where factors such as education level, income and religious and political beliefs make people less likely to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. People who have decided against receiving the vaccine aren’t going to be convinced otherwise. They’ve made up their mind, and it’s increasingly hard to change people’s opinions about politicized topics these days. A good portion of people who tell pollsters “I plan to” will never get around to doing it, and the people who say “I don’t know” may actually be better placed in the “no” category.

Across the state and especially in Rowan County, the supply of vaccinations has vastly outpaced demand, and it doesn’t appear to be a matter of too much supply. State data shows a decreasing number of first doses administered across the state even as options have increased for vaccinations. There were 335,427 first doses of vaccines administered the week of April 5. That number was 202,762 the following week, 128,481 the week after that and 99,088 last week. (Though, the state cautions that data may be incomplete for last week.)

Fewer people getting vaccinated leaves open the possibility for another spike in cases and deaths. Continued mask wearing could be a solution to mitigate that, but large portions of the public who have otherwise joined in the team effort to stop COVID-19 have decided the mask-wearing phase is over.

It’s easy to be pessimistic that COVID-19 is here to stay for good.

Things may appear a little more optimistic if Cooper and other health professionals shift goals and metrics to American adults, which raises the current statewide percentage to 49.9%, because it excludes a large swath of the population not yet eligible to receive a vaccine. Time has shown healthy children are at a much lower risk of a severe case of COVID-19, too.

President Joe Biden says he wants 70% of American adults to be vaccinated.

As we wait and hope a larger portion of people will receive the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s worth reiterating to people who are uncomfortable that masks work.

Widespread decreases in flu and other respiratory illnesses are a prime example. A March study by Vanderbilt University researchers published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine found major decreases in pediatric hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses and deaths. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has reported seven flu deaths this year. That’s fewer than the 2019-2020 year, when there were 186 deaths, and the 2018-2019 year, when there were 203.

In March 2020, Salisbury, Rowan County, North Carolina and America began a giant, difficult group project. It’s not clear that we’re getting a passing grade, but we do know the group project isn’t over yet.

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