About one-third of the COVID-19 vaccine doses sent to North Carolina have been administered to eligible individuals.
An estimated 220,000 doses remain unadministered by the state, leaving some people in high-priority groups questioning when they will receive their doses.
North Carolina received 461,925 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines since the rollout in mid-December, but 131,400 doses are allocated for distribution to staff and residents long-term care facilities to be administered by CVS and Walgreens through a partnership with the federal government.
Of the remaining 330,525 doses that state officials control, 109,799 have been administered as first doses, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services website.
The federal government allocated an additional 121,925 doses to be shipped to North Carolina this week. Next week’s allocation includes another 122,225 doses, according to the CDC.
Vaccinating a small portion of the state’s 10.5 million residents has been a complicated task compounded by scheduling issues, misinformation about vaccine safety, reporting glitches and logistical challenges.
Montgomery County Health Department Director Mary Perez said the timing of the distribution around the winter holidays created additional challenges in that county.
“We were on vacation for a while there for holidays,” she said. “It came like two days before we were leaving, so we didn’t have time to ramp up.”
Perez went into the office over the break to set plans to notify health care employees of their place in line.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced plans to use the National Guard to help address delays in distribution.
“I’ve mobilized the N.C. National Guard to provide support to local health providers as we continue to increase the pace of vaccinations,” Cooper said in a tweet Tuesday afternoon. Exact plans for distribution by the National Guard are not yet available.
CVS and Walgreens report 13,338 doses have been administered to long-term care staff and residents in the state, leaving approximately 118,000 unadministered doses as of Jan. 4.
Changing the plan
Like other states, North Carolina prioritized front-line health care workers to receive the first doses. The two vaccines both require a second dose either 21 or 28 days after the first, and 461 North Carolinians have received the second dose, according to DHHS data.
In the original vaccination plan, the next prioritized group would have been individuals 65 and older with two comorbidities. The state changed its plan in late December after the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations for prioritization.
Under the new plan, the next group prioritized for vaccination in phase 1b includes three subgroups to be given doses in this order: 1) individuals 75 and older; 2) front-line essential workers 50 and older; and 3) front-line essential workers.
The changes created uncertainty for local health departments that administer the vaccines. Health Director Perez said getting information to high-priority groups can be difficult.
“We realized that by them changing phase 1b to people 75 or older that we’re going to have a lot of people that don’t have email or even internet,” she said.
“So, we’ve been spending a lot of time earlier on today trying to figure out how we were going to be able to reach those people.”
After 75-and-older populations, front-line essential workers will be prioritized.
While state officials have yet to offer recommendations about who is considered a front-line essential worker, NCDHHS points to CDC guidelines that define front-line essential workers as “first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers.”
The three groups in phase 1b include an estimated 1.3 million individuals, according to Amy Ellis, media relations manager for DHHS. The department expects the phase to include 435,000 individuals 75 and older, 583,000 frontline essential workers and 292,000 health care workers who were not vaccinated in phase 1a.
The state is expected to receive approximately 120,000 doses of the two mRNA vaccines in the remaining weeks of January, said DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. If the shipments match the predicted amounts, North Carolina will have received nearly a million first doses by the end of the month. The federal government also allocates second doses to match the first.
DHHS sent a letter to vaccine providers informing them “that future vaccine allocations will be modified based on the number of vaccines administered that they have reported to the state.”
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Editor’s note: The map was updated to reflect only vaccination doses allocated through the week of Dec. 28. Counties received additional doses the week of Jan. 4.