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Keeping COVID-19 progress on track: What could go wrong?

Dr. Jane Kelly, Assistant State Epidemiologist for South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control, agrees that flu could also play a foil come fall.

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that more than 80% of adults 65 and older in the state have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

"Achieving 80% of older adults vaccinated is an important milestone in our fight against COVID-19," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. "We are not done yet. Let's continue to protect each other by taking our shot against this virus and bringing summer back to North Carolina."

NCDDHS said those who are unvaccinated still need to wear a mask in public indoor settings and public outdoor settings when they cannot maintain physical distance, need to quarantine if they are exposed to someone with COVID-19 and need to participate in testing and screening programs. NCDHHS recommends North Carolinians to "Vax Up or Mask Up."

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COVID-19 vaccines are widely available across the state. They are free to everyone. For those who still have questions, visit YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov to learn about COVID-19 vaccines and why these safe, effective shots are your best shot to getting back in control of your life and back to the people and places you love.

To date, the state has administered more than 8.3 million vaccine doses. More than 77% of the population 65 years of age and older are fully vaccinated, and close to 54% of the North Carolinians 18 and older have received at least one dose.

To find a vaccine in your area, use the Find a Vaccine Location tool at myspot.nc.gov or call 888-675-4567. You can also text your zip code to 438829 to find vaccine locations near you.

Could progress be derailed?

While the state continues to see progress in the form of declining COVID-19 metrics and rising vaccination rates, medical experts are monitoring for any factors that could derail the exit from the pandemic.

"We're always looking at what are our numbers, what's happening where, what's increasing, what could happen in the fall," Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health said. "Flu will probably be back."

Dr. Jane Kelly, Assistant State Epidemiologist for South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control, agrees that flu could also play a foil come fall.

"We certainly have concerns about that, about influenza coming back with a vengeance," Kelly said. "In the immediate future, we are concerned about large gatherings. We do have a number of people vaccinated in South Carolina, I'm not worried about them. I'm worried about the unvaccinated people."

RELATED: Mecklenburg County Health Department giving $25 COVID-19 vaccine incentive

Doctors believe if there are any surges, they are likely to look different than the ones of the past--less widespread, with pockets of outbreaks in lower-uptake communities.

However, it is also important monitor what happens abroad.

"With so many cases of COVID-19 still happening in huge outbreaks outside the United States, in populations that have not had access to high-quality vaccines that are widely available here, we're seeing more concerning variants emerge," Dr. Mark McClellan, medical economist and director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, said. 

Fortunately, none of the emerging variants have been able to completely elude the current vaccines.

The other good news, Priest says: We have been at this pandemic work for a while.

"We've got a lot of experience now. We can pull levers to put things back in place if we need to do that," Priest said. "Is there a time in the fall when masking could be back for a time? Certainly."

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