Vaccine distribution continues, but ‘we’re not out of the woods’

Posted 1/13/21

Chatham ranks better than most of North Carolina’s 100 counties in stifling coronavirus spread.

But data can be misleading, county health department leaders say, and dispensation of the COVID-19 …

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Vaccine distribution continues, but ‘we’re not out of the woods’

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Se puede leer esta historia en español aquí.

Chatham ranks better than most of North Carolina’s 100 counties in stifling coronavirus spread.

But data can be misleading, county health department leaders say, and dispensation of the COVID-19 vaccine will not immediately redirect the pandemic’s worsening trajectory.

In a press conference last week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that “96 counties are now labeled as red or orange, meaning critical or substantial virus spread.” Chatham, however, is among the four labeled yellow — indicating “significant” spread, the lowest level. As of Tuesday, Chatham had the lowest case rate in the state: 434 cases per 100,000 individuals over the last 14 days.

Chatham’s relative success in preventing spread of the disease is encouraging. But the figures could be misleading, and the reasons for them are unknown.

“We don’t track numbers of who all is wearing their face covering and who all is practicing social distancing,” Chatham County Health Department communications specialist Zachary Horner said, “but it’s important to know that the (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services) map only captures so much.”

While Chatham’s data remain better than elsewhere in the state, they are still trending in the wrong direction.

“People are still getting sick in Chatham County,” Horner said, “and we’re still seeing hospitalizations and deaths.”

So far, 67 people have died in Chatham from COVID-19 and more than 3,100 cases have been recorded.

“We’re not out of the woods — not by a long shot,” Horner said. “We can’t let our guard down. So, while we appreciate the efforts of county residents to slow the spread, it’s the current reality that the pandemic is getting worse in Chatham County.”

Statewide, too, case numbers are escalating with a startling slope. Two months ago, state health officials expressed alarm when case numbers first exceeded 3,000 per day for several days in a row. On Saturday, the record daily case count was set at 11,581 following two days in excess of 10,000 cases.

“We’ve seen some of our highest case counts, percent positives, hospitalizations and ICU bed usage numbers in the past few days ...” Cooper said in his press conference, before the daily records were broken twice more over the weekend. “No matter where you live, work, worship or play, COVID-19 remains a deadly threat.”

But, Cooper emphasized, there is hope for the pandemic’s eventual end — COVID-19 vaccine distribution is underway, albeit slower than anticipated.

“Getting the vaccine out quickly is the most urgent priority right now,” he said, “and we’ll use everything and everyone needed to get the job done.”

In Chatham, nearly 1,600 have received the COVID-19 vaccine so far. Since the first vaccines arrive, the county health department has facilitated vaccine distribution to members of phase 1a in the state’s prioritization guidance: frontline health care workers caring for and working directly with COVID-19 patients and those supporting the vaccine distribution, in addition to residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

But this week, the county health department and Chatham Hospital began administering vaccinations Phase 1b, group 1.

“We are compiling a list of individuals in Phase 1b, group 1,” said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek in a press release, “adults aged 75 or older who want the vaccine.”

But distribution is slow going.

“This process will take several weeks to reach all interested due to limited resources,” Zelek said, adding, “while the news of the vaccine is exciting, we are still a long way from getting the vaccine to everyone who wants it.”

The county’s vaccine supply was always expected to dispense slowly, but rocky rollouts have undershot expectations. North Carolina ranks especially low on vaccine administration with about 211,000 total doses given as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control — well shy of the almost 500,000 originally anticipated by this time. About 2% of the state’s residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which requires two doses three weeks apart for maximum potency.

“We knew from the beginning of the process that resources were going to be limited,” Horner said, “which is why we want to emphasize patience and waiting your turn.”

After frontline workers, long-term care facility residents and adults aged 75 or older have been vaccinated, county officials will open distribution to general health care workers followed by “adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness” (subdivided into four groups), then students and finally “everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination,” according to the county’s website.

But the vaccine will only work if a significant proportion of the population eventually receives it.

“We’re concerned about reports and some people have declined to take the vaccine when it’s their turn,” Cooper said last week. “However, as more people get vaccinated without any serious safety concerns, we believe that many of those who are hesitant will gain confidence the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective.”

To further assuage public anxiety, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the NCDHHS, implored North Carolinians to examine the science behind vaccines before making hasty conclusions as to their safety.

“You need to understand these vaccines are built upon years of work to develop vaccines for similar viruses,” she said following Cooper’s address. “Like all vaccines, they were rigorously tested for safety and effectiveness. More than 70,000 people volunteered in clinical trials for the two vaccines to make sure that they were safe and that they worked to prevent COVID-19 and to date, these vaccines are 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 — you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine.”

While vaccine distribution continues in Chatham, the risk of contraction remains high. Basic health measures are paramount to ensure that COVID-19 spread does not keep accelerating.

“Dr. Cohen emphasized, and we echo, the following actions that individuals can take to curb the spread of COVID-19, which is at an all-time high,” Zelek said, “wear a mask and maintain physical distance from others; don’t go to indoor public places where masks are not worn and social distancing is not practiced; stay at home as much as possible and avoid gatherings with individuals with whom you do not live.”

He warned, too, that numbers may seem to improve in coming months as resources are redirected to the vaccine effort, but they may not indicate an improving situation.

“With vaccination efforts ramping up, our capacity to carry out other response efforts like case investigations and contact tracing is very limited,” he said. “We will follow state guidance in shifting resources from these activities to vaccination efforts. This makes it that much more important for all to follow these steps to curb the spread of COVID-19, which is surging across North Carolina.”

To schedule an appointment with UNC Health to receive a vaccine, visit or call 984-215-5485. If you are a member of Phase 1b, group 1, you may also register with the county to receive vaccination at

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at and on Twitter @dldolder.


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Ron Snyder

Abysmal performance by Chatham County. No transparency- how many vaccines were provided to the County? How many vaccine shots were given- ~1,600. Out of a population of ~65,000 in our County you can tell how bad our local government officials/bureaucrats are doing. Zero sense of urgency, other than CYA.

Tell us how many vaccine shots the County is provided. Why aren't you using CVS, WalGreens, Harris Teeter, Publix, etc. to give out shots instead of ONLY UNC and the AG Center?

Wednesday, January 20