As vaccines begin for adults 75+, Charlotte leaders address ‘hesitations’

As vaccines begin for adults 75+, Charlotte leaders address ‘hesitations’
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This story was last updated at 4:30 p.m. on January 5.

With Mecklenburg County set to begin Phase 1B of COVID-19 vaccinations this week, local officials are working to address one big potential hurdle to returning to normal life: Vaccine hesitation.

Why it matters: The announcement of the new phase is exciting: All adults 75 and older are now eligible for a vaccine through Mecklenburg County. They can begin signing up for appointments at 8 a.m. on January 5 on the county’s website, here or here, or by calling 980-314-9400 and selecting Option 3.

Other providers: Novant Health will also begin vaccinating patients 75+ this week as supply allows. “Eligible patients will receive communication in the coming days on how to schedule their vaccination and we will have more to share on these distribution plans at that time,” a spokeswoman said. Atrium Health will start vaccinating patients 75+ on Wednesday morning. The healthcare system has sent out messages to 160,000 eligible patients across its footprint already this week. Patients can schedule appointments through their MyAtriumHealth account.

  • Still, vaccine hesitation is real in many communities, particularly with people of color.

Zoom out: People are reluctant to jump in line for the new coronavirus vaccines for a range of reasons, from worry over the safety of products made in less than a year to deep-rooted distrust of the medical industry among minority communities.

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An Elon poll last month showed that only about 40 percent of North Carolinians say they’ll get the vaccine once they’re able to. Another 40 percent said “it depends,” and 20 percent said they would not get vaccinated.

Local leaders: Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles plans to get the vaccine as soon as possible. Last month, Lyles announced a partnership with Novant Health on a campaign to educate people about the safety of the vaccines and their importance.

  • Charlotte’s first Black female mayor, Lyles sees her involvement as a way to address inequity. This is especially important, Lyles says, since the pandemic has weighed more heavily on Black people.
  • Lyles also wants to use this as an opportunity to educate white people about historical injustices that cause deep-rooted distrust in medicine. The U.S. government, for instance, performed unwanted sterilizations on low-income Black women as recently as the 1970s, Lyles notes.

What they’re saying: “It’s going to take people who are white acknowledging that it’s not a one-off incident,” Lyles says. “We’ve got to have more people understanding the issue of systemic racism and not just saying, ‘Oh, this is a Black person problem.'”

  • Over the next week, Novant will meet with faith leaders across Charlotte. The goal is to educate them on details about the vaccine, from safety to information on distribution sites, says Dr. Jerome Williams, who leads Novant’s community engagement team. “Those leaders are trusted. We want leverage their voices to communicate the important message that vaccines are safe and effective,” Williams says.
  • “We need all of our communities to know that we are in the business of saving lives, not doing harm,” Novant’s chief consumer officer Jesse Cureton said in a statement. “We will not deceive anyone. We will not discriminate against anyone.”

A number of high-profile individuals have had their vaccination publicized as a way to bolster confidence in vaccines.

  • Last week, VP-elect Kamala Harris rolled up her sleeve for her first dose of the Moderna vaccine on live TV. The week prior, President-elect Joe Biden got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on live TV.
  • “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared, when it’s available, to take the vaccine,” Biden said.
Mecklenburg County vaccine

Mecklenburg County received 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on December 23. Jeanne Williams, BSN, the county’s immunization program manager, was the first to receive the vaccine. (Courtesy of Mecklenburg County)

The big picture: The communication strategy around vaccines has been a priority for the Mecklenburg County Health Department for some time, says Dr. Meg Sullivan, the county’s medical director.

  • This comes in the form of press briefings, social media, and community engagement.
  • Sullivan says the county’s focus is making sure people have accurate information, and that local health officials are proactively communicating with the community about vaccines.
  • “It’s not just ‘yes, I’m protected,’ but understanding that if enough people get vaccinated, the virus can no longer circulate,” Sullivan says.
An Atrium Health employee handles a Covid-19 vaccine

An Atrium Health employee handles a Covid-19 vaccine (courtesy of Atrium Health)

Another big part of the communication strategy among medical professionals includes debunking rumors and clarifying the latest understanding about the vaccine.

  • “You cannot get COVID from the vaccine. The vaccine does not include the COVID virus at all,” Williams says.
  • “70-85 percent of population, according to some estimates,” needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, Sullivan says. “Our message is we want to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Distribution details: Last week, state health officials provided a breakdown of the vaccine distribution by phases, then by subgroups.

  • Phase 1a comprises healthcare workers, along with long-term care residents and staff.
  • Phase 1b includes adults 75 and older, as well as frontline and essential workers.

Since there are not enough doses for everyone in Phase 1b, the vaccinations will occur in groups in this order:

  • Group 1: Anyone 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation
  • Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older.
    • Per the CDC, frontline essential workers are first responders (firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work education (teachers and support staff members) and child care workers.
  • Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age.

Beyond that, here’s what distribution will look like in future phases, timing TBD:

  • Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness. Vaccinations will happen by group in the following order:
    • Group 1: Anyone 65-74 years old, regardless of health status or living situation.
    • Group 2: Anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, among others.
    • Group 3: Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who has not already gotten the vaccine.
    • Group 4: Essential workers not yet vaccinated. Per the CDC, this includes workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (such as construction), finance (such as bank tellers), IT and communications, energy, legal, media, and public safety (such as engineers), and public health workers.
  • Phase 3: College and university students, and K-12 students age 16 and over.
  • Phase 4: Everyone who wants a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccination.

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