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Severe weather hindered COVID-19 vaccinations in North Carolina as half of the Pfizer doses and none of the Moderna doses allocated for this week’s distribution have arrived, according to Kody Kinsley, operations lead for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 response. 

North Carolina was scheduled to receive 63,375 first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 99,500 first doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, but shipping delays and inclement weather kept supplies from some providers, forcing the rescheduling of vaccine appointments and administration events.

The delay compounds the challenge of getting a shot for many of the state’s seniors, who have struggled to get appointments. Under current state guidelines, only front-line health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, and individuals age 65 or older are eligible for vaccination.

 “I fully expect that many, many vaccine clinic events and scheduled vaccine events will have to be rescheduled over the next several days,” Kinsley said at a roundtable Wednesday morning hosted by U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Raleigh. “No one wants this. But everybody’s probably going to experience this pretty consistently.” 

Beginning late Wednesday, a winter storm was expected to bring ice and freezing rain to many of the central and western counties of the state, where transportation workers had already begun brining major roads. 

The threat of treacherous conditions in North Carolina adds to the difficulty already created by severe weather across the country. FedEx, one of the shipping companies delivering the vaccine doses, reported negative effects on operations from inclement weather.

“We have contingency planning in place related to the movement of vaccines, which have priority status within our network, and are working directly with our customers to help ensure their safe transport and delivery,” a FedEx spokesperson said.

The delays could force North Carolina providers to postpone appointments by several days or even a week, Kinsley said. 

“We, as vaccination sites, are prepared to extend hours where we need to get those additional patients in if they do need to get rescheduled,” Leigh Bleecker, interim president of Duke Raleigh Hospital, said.

Other providers in the Triangle are looking for ways to avoid canceling appointments.

WakeMed received its shipment and will proceed with appointments this week, according to President and CEO Donald Gintzig. Wake County hosts a mass vaccination event at PNC Arena Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

“We do have the ability and have, when our drive-thru clinic had some inclement weather, to reschedule folks to some of our other sites,” he said. 

“We’re also looking at increasing or extending our days and adding days, like for example at PNC, which is the mass vaccination site,” said Nannette Bowler, Wake County Human Services Department director. 

Advance Community Health Center, one of the state’s 40 federally qualified health centers, held back the “extra” doses found in Moderna vials for a “rainy day,” CEO Penny Washington said. 

“This week, we’re trying to keep our appointments with the extra doses from those vials. It will only last this week, and if we don’t get a shipment by next week, we’ll have to reschedule and cancel,” she said. 

UNC Health doesn’t schedule vaccinations “unless we know vaccine is pretty much in hand,” said Steve Burriss, chief operating officer of UNC Health Triangle Region. “So, we’ve avoided this scenario of having to reschedule patients as a result.” 

In the Triad, Cone Health announced the closing of vaccine clinics on Thursday and Friday due to inclement weather. Appointments are being rescheduled for next week, but they do not expect a backlog because they have more capacity for appointments than doses, Cone Health spokesperson Doug Allred said.

Second doses are shipped in advance, so many providers already have second doses on hand. Shipping delays may not keep individuals from getting second shots, but safety in getting to and from vaccination sites remains a concern. 

In advance of the storm, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency and said he will issue an executive order “allowing for transportation waivers permitting utility companies to bring repair crews from out of state and get faster access to communities who have lost power.”

State officials hoped to learn more about the effects of bad weather on vaccine distribution in a call with federal officials Wednesday afternoon, Kinsley said.

NCDHHS declined to comment on revised distribution plans or the effects on individuals waiting for second doses, issuing a statement that the agency “will continue working with the CDC and vaccine providers to help minimize the potential effects of these delays,” referring to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Laura Lee

Laura Lee is the News Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact her at llee@carolinapublicpress.org.