GREENSBORO — Nearly half of eligible Guilford County residents have gotten their first COVID-19 vaccination and more than 36% are fully vaccinated, officials said Wednesday.
“We’re very excited about those percentages,” said Don Campbell, the county’s emergency management director, at a news conference.
He announced that the county would be allowing walk-ins for the first time at clinics today through Saturday.
However, appointments still can be made, Campbell said, and that process will shorten the amount of time spent onsite.
The demand for the vaccine remains steady, Campbell said. He noted that the mass vaccination clinic at Four Seasons Town Centre, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is extending its operations and also allowing walk-ins.
Keith Acree, spokesman for N.C. Emergency Management, said the vaccination clinic at the mall was extended through May 27 for two reasons: the suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the popularity of the site.
Officials at the state-run site had anticipated using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot, in its final weeks. However, that vaccine is on hold while federal health officials investigate a possible connection to very rare blood clots that have been observed in a few women 18 to 48 years old who received the vaccine.
Dr. Iulia Vann, Guilford County’s health director, said people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine more than three weeks ago have a “very, very low” risk of developing a blood clot.
The risk still remains very low for those who received the vaccine more recently, she said.
The national pause in using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine affected the time period anticipated to fully vaccinate people visiting the Four Seasons site, Acree said. He added that closing the site on May 4, as originally scheduled, would have forced some people to visit other sites to get their second doses — something health officials did not want.
The site is now offering the Pfizer vaccine, Acree said.
More than 100,000 people have been vaccinated at the Four Seasons site, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
Still, health officials warn more people need to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“Reaching that herd immunity — we’re not there yet,” Vann said at Wednesday’s news conference.
The exact percentage needed, either through vaccination or previous infection, to achieve herd immunity remains unclear for COVID-19, Vann said. That’s because it varies with each disease.
But Vann indicated it’s likely 80% or above, based on other diseases.
Measles required about 95% of the population to be immune and polio needed about 80% immunity, she said.
“Right now, our scientists and our researchers are looking at what does that look like for COVID-19,” Vann said.
Still, the county is moving in the right direction. About 95% of people who receive their first vaccination return for their second shot, Vann said.
“We’re very confident that we (will have) close to 50% of the population being fully vaccinated fairly soon,” she said. “That is tremendous work that has been done in just four months. But we still want to make that number go higher.”
Health officials are continuing outreach efforts, including releasing a public service announcement in Spanish. They also are working with officials in High Point on a new pilot program called Vax Connect to reach neighborhoods “that have barriers to access the vaccine,” Vann said.
Another problem stems from North Carolina’s pollen season.
“We’re seeing a lot of individuals, maybe just assuming they’ve got allergies, when in fact it actually may be COVID,” Campbell said. “Some of the symptoms are the same.”
He recommended that anyone exhibiting symptoms that align with the disease get tested just in case.
“The last thing we want you to do is make the assumption that it’s just allergies and then you’re going around and spreading it to your loved ones,” Campbell said.
People who have had close contact with someone with the coronavirus also should get tested after five days of the exposure, Campbell said.
Local officials also said the recent spring break holiday doesn’t appear to have greatly affected the local spread of the coronavirus.
“We did see a little bit of an increase in the number of cases over the last three to four weeks,” Vann said. “However, that change has not been dramatic.”
The county has had about 100 to 120 new cases each day since early March.
The county also adopted new guidelines regarding quarantine. The quarantine period is now 10 days from the last exposure to COVID-19 if the person has no symptoms, Vann said. That period can drop to seven days if there is a negative COVID-19 test result on the fifth day of quarantine.
People who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 are not required to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated (that includes the two weeks after their final shot) and show no symptoms.