According to N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommended to state governors during a Tuesday phone call that they begin vaccinating people 65 and older. The change would make millions more Americans eligible to receive the vaccine, which until now has been reserved for frontline healthcare workers and people older than 75.
For N.C., it would move the vaccination plan into Phase 2, Group 1, even though it’s currently working through Phase 1B, Group 1.
“A continuing problem with the federal government is they shift their advice on what the priorities of the vaccine should be,” Cooper said, after revealing he had to leave the phone call for today’s press briefing. “This recommendation was based upon the fact that [Covid-19 is] so widespread, and we know older people get hit with this.”
Part of the problem is vaccines are still coming in limited supply weekly from the federal government to the states. Manufacturers are pushing out supplies as quickly as possible.
The state gets around 120,000 vaccines weekly. N.C. Health and Human Services Department secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state is going to shift 45,000 vaccine allocations into 10 higher throughputs that will be set up around the state — including Forsyth County, Albemarle, Vidant Health in eastern North Carolina, Cone Health in Guilford County, Atrium Health in Charlotte and surrounding counties, UNC Health in Orange County clinics, Duke Health in Durham, WakeMed in Wake County, and in Western North Carolina a collaboration with Dogwood, MAHEC and FQHCs.
“People can travel across the state to get vaccines,” Cooper said. “We are putting the throughputs in areas where health departments are struggling.”
While some health departments are administering vaccines as quickly as possible and running out — including in New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties, which offers vaccination by appointments — others are having a harder time pushing through the appropriate doses due to a lack of manpower and people declining them.
Cohen said the state is trying to shift and work with them, as well as make necessary changes to find the right balance on vaccine distribution.
“We’re trying to employ a lot of strategies to solve for speed and equity at the same time,” she said.
She iterated a high amount of people refusing the vaccine are specifically those often at greater risk of mortality: African-American and Hispanic populations, and those working at long-term healthcare facilities.
“In almost every health measure, implicit bias, racism and inequities exist,” Cohen said. “The pandemic didn’t create disparities; it made them acutely visible for all to see.”
Over the summer, Cohen noted after the state shifted careful attention to marginalized areas, it was able to bring down Covid-19 spread from 30% in African American populations to 22%, and from 45% in Hispanic populations to 24%.
“Injustices that drive these disparities can cause reasons for people to be hesitant,” she acknowledged. “But we need marginalized populations to understand the importance of getting vaccinated.”
The state is working closely with community partners to help fill these gaps and provide information to spread the word.
“Our department is getting out the PSA . . . and grassroots efforts to raise that level of trust,” Cooper said.
“They are safe, they are effective, you cannot get Covid from the vaccine,” Cohen noted of the Moderna and Pfizer series of shots.
N.C. is over 13% in positive cases, with hospitals stretched, according to current data. Cohen added that 75% of staffed hospital beds are in use and 84% of ICU beds are in use. Some hospitals already are reducing and eliminating elective procedures to free up beds, much like in spring 2020.
Cohen also pointed to rising positive cases in neighboring states, like South Carolina (25%), Virginia (16%) and Georgia (18%).
“They’re not statistics or data points on a graph,” Cooper said. “Behind these numbers are real people.”
He also pointed to the one-day peak in Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. last Thursday, which reached more than 4,000.
“Words matter,” Cooper said, addressing disinformation that has been batted around about the virus over the last year. He also addressed politicians who spread it.
“People listen to leaders and follow their actions,” he added, making note of the insurrection at the Capitol last week.
Cooper was asked by members of the press whether security measures were being ramped up at the state capital, the governor’s mansion and government buildings in coming weeks and days, amid the fallout of last week’s insurrection.
“There is concern of potential threats of violence,” he said, deferring to secretary of public safety Eric Hooks for an update.
“I’ve been in constant contact with local and federal partners,” Hooks said. “I talked at length with the special agent in charge of the FBI today. We will maintain a high level of vigilance and are positioned to address any threat that comes our way.”
As far as jumping ahead in phases to inoculate the 65 and older crowd, Cooper said the N.C. Coronavirus Task Force will meet to discuss how to best move forward with the federal government’s new recommendation. The state will provide updated information to health departments and media, as soon as a decision is made.
“Leaders must listen to science and focus on facts and lead with words,” Cooper said. “The truth is: This disease is spreading fast. Truth is: People need to follow safety protocols in place, abiding by the modified stay-at-home order. These simple measures work. Vaccines are safe and effective.”
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