Wilkes County Health Director Rachel Willard said COVID-19 vaccinations in Wilkes have leveled off, despite the local health department’s decision to make them available to everyone age 16 and older about two weeks ago.

“The vaccination response (locally) in general has slowed. It has reached a plateau,” said Willard.

As of Wednesday (today), any approved COVID-19 vaccine is available to everyone 16 and older in every North Carolina county.

Wilkes was among several North Carolina counties that made the vaccine available to everyone 16 and older in advance of this occurring statewide.

Meanwhile, the health department reported that 6,338 Wilkes residents had tested positive by Monday. Wilkes had 118 active COVID-19 cases as of Monday, with six of those hospitalized.

The health department also reported 106 COVID-19-related deaths in Wilkes as of Monday, which is two more than in the past several weeks. One of the two deaths was a person in his/her 50s who died March 28 in Wilkes. The other was a person in his/her 70s who was in a local long-term care facility and died at a hospital outside Wilkes.

Willard said she expects COVID-19 cases in Wilkes to spike in two to three weeks, partly due to people becoming more active and having more contact with each other.

COVID-19 vaccinations are free to everyone. No photo ID or insurance are needed and people don’t have to be U.S. citizens to be vaccinated. They also can get vaccinated in a county that isn’t where they live.

Willard said the health department has been unable to fill all of its vaccination appointment slots in recent weeks.

She didn’t accept any vaccine from the state for first dose vaccinations last week because the health department still had about half (about 600 doses) of its allocation for first doses from the prior week. Those were all used last week, she said.

Willard said about 75-80% of people scheduled to receive second doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the health department have been showing up for their appointments in recent weeks. The health department doesn’t know how many people are opting to get second doses from a source other than the health department, she said.

Willard added that the health department’s experience with second dose appointments is similar to what has occurred in much of the rest of the state.

She said the reduced interest in being vaccinated in Wilkes is related to the fact that it’s mostly younger people now who haven’t gotten the shots. Willard said they’re less concerned about health threats of COVID-19. She said there also are concerns among women, although unfounded, about the impact of the vaccine on their ability to have children.

The health department has received the Pfizer vaccine from the state in recent weeks after receiving only the Moderna vaccine for several weeks.

Willard said she is interested in seeing the response to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the health department’s first dose drive-through clinic from 1-3 p.m. Thursday at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge. The health department received 200 doses for that clinic.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Feb. 27, making it the third vaccine available for COVID-19.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, while Pfizer and Moderna both require two doses. Only Pfizer is approved for those under 18.

According to the health department website, the department had a second dose clinic for the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday of this week instead of Friday.

This health department’s next monthly drive-through vaccination clinics at the Wilkes middle schools are April 17. Willard said the clinic that has been at Central Wilkes Middle School once a month will instead be at Wilkes Central High School to help avoid traffic problems.

Check the health department website at https://www.wilkescounty.net/617/Vaccine-Clinic or call the health department at 336-990-9950 for detail on other clinics. The health department is now also scheduling vaccination appointments online.

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