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Editorial: Vaccine tourism for Rowan County?

For years, Rowan County officials have worked hard to make the community an attractive place to live, work and visit.

There have been meetings, focus groups, taxpayer dollars spent, rebranding projects and websites to tell people the good things happening here. Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds once envisioned a sign at the entrance to the county on Interstate 85 that would make people exclaim, “Holy cow, who are these people?” The sign never came to fruition, but the idea was clear. Edds and company wanted to find ways to tell people a new day was dawning in Rowan County.

Rowan County may have finally found its moment: getting people vaccinated.

Simply put, people who live in Rowan County are not taking the COVID-19 vaccine at the same rates as other North Carolinians. That’s meant leftover doses and a county on track to fall short of herd immunity levels.

The county can tell people elsewhere it has leftover doses, call it vaccine tourism and, if it wants, count dollars spent at gas stations or at local restaurants in its annual assessment of the local tourism industry. Come get your shot and a good, hot meal. Stay for a while and visit one of the county’s museums, Dan Nicholas Park, the N.C. Transportation Museum or another site.

It may sound ridiculous to tell people to visit for vaccines. It would be a little comical to see marketing for vaccine tourism, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 40% of the total U.S. population has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while Rowan County number is 19% lower. Local vaccination rates are lower than state averages, too. The Rowan Health Department is receiving nearly 1,200 vaccines on a regular basis and ending up with leftovers. It set aside 500 vaccinations for a clinic at Livingstone College on Saturday and left with 220 unused. Elsewhere in the state and country, people have created Facebook pages and websites to aggregate places near and far to get vaccinated. Here, it’s as easy as calling the Rowan County Health Department or visiting its website.

And it’s not just the Rowan Health Department. Private providers who are receiving vaccines weekly report there are some left over.

Attitudes that the general public should wait until elderly and sick people get vaccinated are outdated. Even in a place like Rowan County, the percent of people over 65 who are partially vaccinated is nearing herd immunity levels — over 60%.

If Rowan County residents aren’t claiming vaccine doses, they shouldn’t waste away in a freezer.

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