Durham County Public Health Director Rod Jenkins announced this week that a proposed “mega-site” designed to administer tens of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines weekly has been at least temporarily derailed due to a shortage of doses the county is receiving from the state.

Jenkins prefaced his announcement by describing it as “a bit of not so good news.”

“I have been told that the state-sponsored mega-site that’s in partnership with the [state] Office of Emergency Management and Duke [Hospital] has been paused,” Jenkins said during the Durham County Board of Commissioners’s regular meeting Monday night.

The county public health director explained that officials with the state Department of Health and Human Services are not going to resume plans for the mass vaccination site “until there are adequate supplies for first and second doses” of the vaccine.

“That is not good news,” Commissioners Vice-Chair Wendy Jacobs said moments after Jenkins’ announcement. Jacobs said the mass vaccination site is part of the process of getting teachers and school employees vaccinated—a move the commissioners supported in a separate resolution on Monday night and that the governor said Wednesday would be prioritized after public pressure from educators and their allies.

While the mega-site has been paused, Jenkins said vaccinating school employees as part of a pre-planned event is still possible.

“It’s not out of the question,” he said. “It’s just a matter of making sure that it is planned correctly, and being able to substantiate the need for additional doses of the vaccine with the state. We are really tethered by the allotments that we receive from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.”

The county health director said state health officials have only guaranteed a relatively small number of doses of the vaccine to Durham over the next three weeks.

“We received 600 last week and we’re slated to receive 600 this week, and we will receive 600 next week,” said Jenkins, who added that the county also receives 700 “equity doses” to target seniors who are 65 or older, or who are “marginalized Black and Brown residents of Durham County.”

“We are definitely working hard to make sure this population is vaccinated,” he said.

There was some positive news out of the meeting—Jenkins said that Durham County residents will be able to get vaccines at Walgreens starting on Friday. Commissioner Jacobs told the INDY on Wednesday that the pharmacy chain will offer residents an online appointment system, but added that residents would need to have a Walgreens account to book an appointment.

Jenkins noted that there were currently 1,032 active COVID-19 cases in the county, and that 19,586 residents have fully recovered from the virus.

There have been a total of 20,816 reported cases of the virus in Durham County since the onset of the pandemic, and 193 deaths.

“The month of January was not kind to Durham County,” Jenkins added. “We had 4,703 total cases, without a doubt the highest [one month total] on record.”

Jenkins also noted that like the rest of the country, Durham County is seeing a downward trend in new cases.

He pointed out that the county’s infection rate now stands at 4.7 percent.

“It’s decreasing, but it’s still relatively high,” he said.

From a racial and ethnic perspective, Jenkins said not much has changed. Latinx and Black residents are still being disproportionately impacted by the virus, while white residents are underrepresented.

He said people are still most likely to contract the virus in congregate settings, including nursing homes, jails, and prisons.

“We are doing a great job, contrary to what some reports may say,” Jenkins said. “Durham has been particularly effective in comparison with the rest of the state with its rate of penetration with doses that have gone out.”

He noted that the county’s vaccination rate among Asian residents is 5.8 percent, while the state average overall is 2.48 percent.

Likewise, the vaccination rate among the county’s Black residents is 21.92 percent, far ahead of the state average of 13.51 percent.

However, Jenkins said local health officials are lagging behind the state with the vaccinating of the county’s white residents, who are being inoculated at a rate of 6.72 percent in Durham County, but 7.9 percent across the state.

Meanwhile, Latinx/Hispanic residents of Durham County are being vaccinated at a rate of 3.9 percent, in comparison to 2.34 percent across the state.

“We have a lot of work to do in that community,” Jenkins said,” “and we’re committed to doing it.”

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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