State immunization manager Molly Howell told the Forum News Service that doses destined for North Dakota were shifted to a newly created federal pool where states with the greatest need for vaccines can claim them. Howell said he heard during a call with White House officials that three starving vaccine states have requested doses in the pool, but did not know how many others joined North Dakota to produce part of their stock.
The 70,000 doses represent about two weeks of the North Dakota’s regular allocation by the federal government, but Howell said the state could not continue to claim a supply that it was unlikely to use.
“We have more vaccine than demand and it’s unfortunate because those doses could have saved lives and hospitalizations,” Howell said. “Ethically, I don’t think we can save them or wait for people to comment on vaccination when we have other states that need it.”
Doses given were maintained in North Dakota by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and never physically entered the state. Howell said vaccine providers in the state still have many doses for anyone who wants to make a vaccine.
Earlier this year, North Dakota’s vaccine launch was near the top of the national rankings, but the rate of gun administration began to decline in early April and since then it has almost stabilized. From May 2 to 9, less than 1,500 previously unvaccinated residents received a first dose, according to data from the State Department of Health.
With approximately 44% of adults fully vaccinated, North Dakota has recently fallen behind the national average vaccination rate, although Howell notes that the state “hit a wall” faster than other parts of the country in due to its deployment success.
Most of the demand for idle shots can be attributed to residents’ skeptical attitudes toward the vaccine and the denial of the severity of COVID-19, Howell said. Public health officials and doctors say vaccine safety concerns have their roots in misinformation and do not reflect reality.
Others may think they don’t need the puncture as they have already recovered from the disease; experts discuss this logic and recommend vaccinating regardless of previous infection. And yet, some residents are passive and have not arrived for the appointment, Howell said.
Howell noted that immunization rates are particularly low in western North Dakota and among younger residents. The state’s eight lowest vaccination counties are in the west, including Williams, McKenzie and Grant counties, where less than a quarter of adults are fully inoculated.
North Dakotans should be vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones, Howell said, adding that she is disappointed that more residents have not considered the community benefit of mass vaccination against the deadly disease.
“I’m from North Dakota and I know people care about other people and help when there are emergencies, and I thought North Dakotans would probably increase more and choose to get vaccinated,” Howell said. “In West North Dakota, if someone gets hurt on the farm, everyone gathers and helps them, and that should be thought the same way, but I think people decided so far that now it’s hard to change their minds. “
Molly Howell, North Dakota Immunization Program Manager, speaks at a press conference on March 3, 2021. Screenshot through the North Dakota Department of Health
The goal of achieving herd immunity against COVID-19, which requires an estimated vaccination rate of 70 percent, seems less realistic in the short term and can take months or years to achieve, Howell noted. This means that residents will continue to fall ill and die due to a preventable disease.
“North Dakotans just have to decide what level of COVID they feel is right for their community,” Howell said. “Is it okay for North Dakota to continue to have deaths and hospitalizations because of COVID?”
Howell said public health officials will continue to try to persuade residents to get vaccinated and make the shots as accessible as possible. A new Department of Health campaign will focus on administering punctures to medical offices where residents typically seek treatment for an independent illness, he said.
Gov. Doug Burgum told the Forum News Service that encouraging vaccination is “difficult right now,” noting that in the past month the state has had to move from “rationing” vaccine doses to “marketing.” the “to a more dubious population.
“It really has to be around incentives versus requirements to try to encourage people to overcome” vaccine skepticism, Burgum said. The governor noted recent moves in other states, such as the announcement by the Ohio governor of a $ 1 million lottery prize for vaccine recipients and college scholarship opportunities for newly vaccinated youth, such as intriguing ideas, but noted that tackling the problem will likely depend on specific local efforts and patient conversations with their doctors.
Meanwhile, Howell predicted that North Dakota will continue to give doses to other states on a weekly basis.
Reporter Adam Willis, a member of the American Corps, contributed to this story.