County health departments that a month ago couldn’t keep up with vaccine demand have now started closing some of their mass vaccination sites for lack of customers, and some counties are declining vaccine shipments.
Now that more than half of adults in the United States have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose and the country has surpassed 202 million administered doses, demand for shots appears to be slowing in many areas.
White House and health officials are comparing the next phase of the vaccination campaign to a get-out-the-vote effort.
While every person 16 and older in the country became eligible for a coronavirus vaccination on Monday, dropping demand has pushed Mercer County, Ohio — where 27 percent of adults have at least one dose — to announce the closing of its mass vaccination site on May 7.
“It wasn’t fair to ask our volunteers to keep showing up there when they weren’t being fully utilized — they like to keep busy,” Jason Menchhofer, county health administrator, said in an interview on Thursday about the site on the local fairgrounds.
In the first few months of the year, the site in the county of 41,000, which borders Indiana, would fill up its 400 appointments in an hour or two, he said. “We could even reach down into those who were not age-eligible to get it to come in at the end of the day to come out quickly and get it into someone’s arm,” he said.
But demand has fallen precipitously in the last several weeks, and last week the county ended up wasting two doses, which was a first. “We no longer have a reserve of people who want to be vaccinated to reach into to show up and take those doses,” he added.
The largest vaccination site in Las Vegas, the Cashman Center, will close on May 5 as the list of open appointments grow and the lines to be inoculated have dwindled. The tens of thousands of open appointments at sites across the nation are forcing officials to pivot their outreach strategies and zero in on smaller events.
Palm Beach County in Florida said on Tuesday that it would shut its three mass vaccination sites, which are operating at about half capacity, by the end of May. Of 16,000 appointment slots available this week, only 6,000 were filled, according to health officials. Instead, three mobile units will each aim to give 500 doses a day.
In Galveston County, Texas, a mass drive-through clinic at a county park won’t operate after May 1. The park has been administering 5,000 doses per day, including on Thursday. But demand for appointments has dampened in the last three weeks, according to the county’s chief public health officer. He also asked the state to pause vaccine shipments.
“We’re concerned that some of it may expire before we use it, if we keep getting it,” said Dr. Philip Keiser. “We are trying to figure out how to balance out supply and demand, yet also have enough on hand so that when school kids are able to get back, we can do them.”
There will be much more targeted outreach, down to the Census tract level, Dr. Keiser said, and there might be 100 or 200 injections per day rather than thousands.
“We got about 50 percent of our people vaccinated,” he said, “and we recognize that next 25 percent is going to be a lot harder than the first.”