Scotland County has consistently had one of the best COVID-19 vaccine allocation rates in the state — and certainly the best of the Border Belt counties. Since the beginning of vaccine distribution in mid December, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has sent Scotland County an average of 743 vaccine doses per week, or one dose per 6.35 county residents.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had any problems with having the vaccine,” said Kathie Cox, spokesperson of the Scotland County Health Department.
In the week of Dec. 21, Scotland County received one dose per 38.69 residents, according to NCDHHS. Bladen County had the best rate of one dose per 30.44 residents, Robeson County had one dose per 63.72 residents, and Columbus County had the worst rate of one dose per 111.02 residents.
By the first week in January, Scotland County’s rate surpassed Bladen County’s rate and didn’t slow down. Since then, NCDHHS has provided Scotland County with one of the highest rates of vaccine doses per capita in the state. The county’s rate of vaccine doses per capita currently ranks 14th.
Cox can’t explain the reason behind this high vaccine allocation rate. “We’re lucky,” she said.
As of May 17, approximately 30% of Scotland County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to NCDHHS.
“We’re plugging along, slowly but surely,” Cox said.
Older population sees high vaccine rate too
Scotland County’s high vaccine allocation rate has also benefited its most vulnerable population: the elderly. Approximately 7% percent of residents aged 65 and older who have contracted COVID-19 have died, which is much higher than the county’s average death rate of 2.2%, according to NCDHHS.
Overall, 85 Scotland County residents have died from COVID-19, according to NCDHHS.
This age group, however, has been able to access a COVID-19 vaccine better than most counties’ residents of the same age. On average, NCDHHS has provided one vaccine dose per 1.47 residents aged 65 and older.
Scotland County currently ranks 16th in the state with a rate of one dose per 0.38 residents aged 65 and older, according to NCDHHS.
As a result, the Scotland County Health Department and other partners — including Scotland Health Care System, Scotland Health Center and Scotland Correctional Institute — have been able to get shots into the arms of residents aged 65 and older. This age group has received approximately 45% of all vaccines, even though it comprises only 18.8% of the population, according to NCDHHS.
Cox is proud of the high percentage of vaccinated individuals within this demographic. Now, the Scotland County Health Department is turning its attention to the next age group: 45-64 years old. “Now we want to target those in the middle range,” Cox said.
‘Conscientious about the diversity’
Age isn’t the only demographic on which the Scotland County Health Department has focused. Since December, vaccine distribution across race, ethnicity, and gender has gotten closer to representing the true demographic makeup of the county.
“We’ve always been racially diverse in providing the vaccine for all populations,” Cox said.
Complete data on vaccine distribution by race still is not available. NCDHHS only shows White, Black, “suppressed” and “other.” NCDHHS argues that the “suppressed” category includes groups numbering fewer than 500 vaccinated individuals apiece. This includes American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander and anyone who classifies themselves as being of two or more races. NCDHHS recently excluded data on Black vaccinations from the “suppressed” category.
Individuals can also mark themselves as “other,” which means they do not classify themself as any of the races listed. Almost 260 vaccinated residents have marked themselves as “other,” according to Monday NCDHHS data.
In December, 60-75% of vaccines went to White residents, even though that race only comprises 44.6% of the population, according to NCDHHS. The “suppressed” racial group — which at the time included Black residents, along with American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander and anyone who classifies themselves as being of two or more races — totaled 27% of vaccinations.
Vaccine distribution began to trend toward a more representative racial count in March, when White residents received less than 50% of the administered vaccines, according to NCDHHS. Last week, White residents received only 38% of the vaccines. That means that Black residents comprised 38%, and the “suppressed” racial group comprised 64%.
“At this point in time, all races have almost been equally distributed,” Cox said.
In addition, Scotland County has been reaching a more equitable distribution among different ethnicities. Between December and January, zero to five Hispanics would receive a COVID-19 vaccine each week, according to NCDHHS. By spring, that changed, with the week of March 8 seeing 108 Hispanics vaccinated, or 9% of the total vaccines administered in the county that week.
Overall, NCDHHS reports 2.7% of Scotland County vaccines have gone to Hispanic residents, who make up 3.3% of the population.
“We are definitely conscientious about the diversity and making sure that everyone has equal access to the vaccine,” Cox said.
Vaccine distribution has also become more equitable among men and women. Women make up 50.4% of Scotland County but received 60-75% of vaccines at the beginning, according to NCDHHS.
“Men have a tendency of not wanting to go to the doctor, not wanting to get their screenings,” Cox said. “We are going to take care of ourselves and others.”
Since then, distribution has progressively gotten closer to 50% women and 50% men, according to NCDHHS.
Across demographics, the week of Feb. 15 saw a drastic decrease in vaccines. That week the entire country experienced vaccine shipment delays due to severe weather.
Community outreach efforts
Scotland County Health Department’s goal is to have 60% of residents vaccinated, according to new Director Elisha Caldwell, who assumed the position in March. With 30% at least partially vaccinated, the county is halfway there.
“We can’t relax right now,” Caldwell said. “We are not out of the woods yet.”
To achieve that 60% goal, Caldwell has been hosting town halls to hear the concerns of Scotland Countians. “We are still learning more about what is going to be decreasing the demand,” he said. “When we have those town halls, when we get to the point of understanding vaccine [hesitancy], then we can know for sure why there is a decrease in demand.”
The health department has also added a branch of its COVID-19 task force, which includes representatives from the hospital and school system, to address vaccine hesitancy. “With this task force, we’re hoping to learn what those barriers are,” Cox said. “We’ll work diligently to break down those barriers and get our population vaccinated.”
Caldwell is also trying to reach minority populations and encourage them to get a vaccine. He has been collaborating with community members, including religious leaders and school administrators, to take the vaccines out of the health department and into the places that need these shots the most. “We are working hard to go to underserved communities,” he said, but added that he was doing it in an “appropriate” and “inclusive” way.
Cox added that the health department has also partnered with the local newspaper and radio stations with diverse audiences to help educate the public about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. “We’re trying to alleviate that hesitancy because there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “I think it’s a lack of education, a lack of understanding, a lack of desire.”
The health department is trying to reach communities where they are because some Scotland Countians have difficulty setting up and remembering their vaccine appointments. Others might change their minds before actually getting the vaccine. “Sometimes people make an appointment and don’t show up,” Caldwell said. “You can’t force people to take it.”
Overall, Caldwell is confident that the pandemic will eventually be over, but until then he encourages all Scotland Countians to follow safety measures, including wearing masks, washing hands and waiting six feet apart. “If we continue to do these and vaccines, then we’ll be at a good, steady place,” he said. “We will be there; I have no doubt.”