US drop in vaccine demand has some places turning down doses

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FILE - In this March 19, 2021, file photo, nurses fill syringes with a COVID-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site in Kansas City, Mo. Demand for the coronavirus vaccine has fallen off in some places around the United States to the point where some counties are turning down new shipments of doses. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, File)

JACKSON, Miss. – Louisiana has stopped asking the federal government for its full allotment of COVID-19 vaccine. About three-quarters of Kansas counties have turned down new shipments of the vaccine at least once over the past month. And in Mississippi, officials asked the federal government to ship vials in smaller packages so they don’t go to waste.

As the supply of coronavirus vaccine doses in the U.S. outpaces demand, some places around the country are finding there's such little interest in the shots, they need to turn down shipments.

“It is kind of stalling. Some people just don’t want it,” said Stacey Hileman, a nurse with the health department in rural Kansas’ Decatur County, where less than a third of the county’s 2,900 residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

The dwindling demand for vaccines illustrates the challenge that the U.S. faces in trying to conquer the pandemic while at the same time dealing with the optics of tens of thousands of doses sitting on shelves when countries like India and Brazil are in the midst of full-blown medical emergencies.

More than half of American adults have received at least one vaccine dose, and President Joe Biden this week celebrated eclipsing 200 million doses administered in his first 100 days in office. He also acknowledged entering a new phase to bolster outreach and overcome hesitancy.

Across the country, pharmacists and public health officials are seeing the demand wane and supplies build up. About half of Iowa's counties have stopped asking for new doses from the state, and Louisiana didn’t seek shipment of some vaccine doses over the past week.

Some are urging federal officials to send more vaccine to places where there’s demand — rather than allocate them based on population — including Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said on Thursday they could administer two to three times more doses per day if they had more supply.

In Mississippi, small-town pharmacist Robin Jackson has been practically begging anyone in the community to show up and get shots after she received her first shipment of vaccine earlier this month and demand was weak, despite placing yard signs outside her storefront celebrating the shipment's arrival. She was wasting more vaccine than she was giving out and started coaxing family members into the pharmacy for shots.