As vaccines become more available, a lack of data could curb hope

To see my thoughts on this piece, check out my reflection post here: Writing about vaccines proves a service to community and to self – Kyra O’Connor (

Photo by Clare Grant | Elon News Network
An Alamance County Health Department worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Jan. 18 at The Career and Technical Education Center in Burlington, North Carolina. The health department administers both Moderna and Pfizer vaccine on different days depending on supplies.

One year after the COVID-19 pandemic started, vaccine efforts are bringing hope to university and town community members alike in Elon, North Carolina. But the lack of data on vaccination and case trends may become an obstacle in lifting restrictions and mandates.

Just three months after Alderwoman Emily Sharpe contracted COVID-19, she went with her mother to get her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Sharpe was vaccinated in Alamance County, something she and those around her have been since the vaccinations became available.

“The day after my birthday, so last week, my mom and I went and got it together,” Sharpe said. 

For Sharpe, getting the vaccine was about more than protecting herself or others. As an elected official and someone who is not high risk, a vaccination allowed her to make those around her more comfortable

“It’s important that if someone had hesitancy in our town or in our personal lives, that they felt more comfortable when they were able to see more healthy people and younger people who are at less risk getting it and not having any issues,” Sharpe said. 

Sharpe is one of over 1,000,000 people partially vaccinated in the state of North Carolina, as of March 12. Alamance County is currently vaccinating people in groups one through three, which includes healthcare workers, long-term care staff and residents, adults 65 and older, and essential workers, like Elon University student workers.

The County vaccination data, available through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, shows that at least 30,000 people have been partially vaccinated in Alamance as of March 14. But there is no data specifically for the town of Elon, nor for the university population or Twin Lakes, two large communities within the town with many eligible community members. 

Elon Town Manager Rich Roedner said that because of the lack of data available at the town level, his recommendations to the mayor and for town restrictions and actions will be based on state and county vaccination rates.

“It does make it harder because we don’t have the ability to say that x percentage of Elon residents are now vaccinated or been sick,” Roedner said.  

Students, faculty and staff at Elon University do not have to adhere to town restrictions, members of the town community have been under the same emergency order since the beginning of the pandemic. The town of Elon did not increase mass gathering limits in accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order on Feb. 24. that eased restrictions on gathering limits both indoors and outdoors and lifted the statewide 10 p.m. curfew. The town of Elon has kept both restrictions in place. 

Alderman Monti Allison asked board members at their regular meeting March 9 to discuss when the town would consider altering its mass gathering limits. He said residents have expressed concerns to him. 

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Allison said. “We know that each day that we restrict our residents, it’s not fair to them, particularly when the entire state is taking a different approach.”  Good one.

Roedner said his recommendation to the mayor to keep the mass gathering limits the same stems from the makeup of the Elon community, which is not like “other North Carolina towns.” Because faculty, staff and students travel differently than regular residents and may be vaccinated outside of North Carolina, the county data or local data could be only partially correct. 

 “They’re here, they’re interacting everybody else, but they don’t live here, so I have no way of knowing if they’re vaccinated,” Roedner said.