Gov. Roy Cooper has been visiting vaccination sites around North Carolina this week as the state continues to try to convince more people to get the coronavirus vaccines.
Last week, Cooper announced a new cash drawing for people who get the vaccine. Four vaccinated adults will win $4 million. A separate drawing will award four $125,000 college scholarships to North Carolinians 12 to 17 years old who get a vaccine.
“We need more people vaccinated to fully put this pandemic behind us, so we’re pulling out all the stops,” the governor said Thursday at a vaccination site in Davidson, near Charlotte.
“Getting your shot is a win-win situation. Even if you don’t get the cash prize or scholarship, you’ll still protect yourself and your loved ones from a deadly virus,” he said.
The first drawing will be on Wednesday, with another drawing each Wednesday until August 17. People who get vaccinated now are entered into the drawing twice. But it’s not clear yet if the drawing will drive more people to get the shot.
The governor visited another vaccination clinic in Smithfield Friday with the same message.
“With the highly contagious Delta variant of this virus spreading mostly through unvaccinated people, it’s critical that we continue to get more people vaccinated,” he said Friday.
Dr. Christopher Ohl, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, shared the same concerns about the new Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“The Delta variant has a higher risk of hospitalization,” he said. “It’s also more contagious than the Alpha or the U.K. variant. In Scotland and England right now, the people it’s affecting most are the 12- to 20-year-olds.”
He said that might have something to do with younger people doing more social activities, but it shows that the Delta variant can spread easier than other strains.
“If you’re unvaccinated, there’s a real good chance you’re going to get this variant,” he said.
It’s not clear just how much of the virus in North Carolina is the Delta variant, but Ohl estimated it accounts for 3 to 8% of cases in the state.
As of Friday, about 55% of adults in North Carolina are at least partially vaccinated. Almost 80% of people 65 and older are fully vaccinated.
Anyone 12 years and older can get vaccinated in North Carolina for free. The coronavirus vaccines are not authorized for children under 12.
Since the vaccine campaign started in North Carolina, the numbers of new coronavirus cases and people in the hospital with the virus have dropped dramatically.
New cases are down to just a couple hundred each day. That number spiked to more than 10,000 in January.
As of Friday, there were 475 people in the hospital with COVID-19, and that number continues to drop. That’s down from earlier this year, when thousands were in the hospital with the virus.
“Five hundred people in the hospital in the state is still a lot of people due to one disease, and it’s a preventable disease now,” Ohl said.
He said he hasn’t seen much change in the number of people coming in for a vaccine since Cooper announced the new cash drawing.
The number of people getting vaccinated has dropped in recent weeks. As vaccines opened up for more people, the state peaked at giving out almost 686,000 doses during the week of April 5, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
That number dropped as the weeks went on, bottoming out at a little less than 137,000 doses for the week after Memorial Day. The numbers started climbing again last week, but the full number is not yet available from DHHS.
Ohl said the state will have to wait and see what effect the cash drawing has on convincing more people to get vaccinated.
“Maybe as the word gets out, it will help. Anything helps get our vaccination rates up,” he said. “It’s a good time to get vaccinated for a lot of reasons.”