Vaccine providers will be expanding in North Carolina, according to Gov. Roy Cooper, who announced today his intention to sign executive order 193. This will allow the secretary of North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen, to wave normal industry regulations and give authority for more providers to administer the vaccine as supply begins to increase.
The state is averaging 150,000 doses a week to route to 100 counties. Cooper said earlier in the day the Biden administration announced it would be increasing supply by 5% starting this week.
“One good thing about the Biden administration, it has been giving the states a three-week window of what we can expect to get into our state,” Cooper said. “And that gives us more time to plan. Before we were given 24-48-hours notice.”
Cooper said the administration has increased vaccines little by little. North Carolina has proven it can get the first dose into arms, which ensures the state continues receiving supply.
“Right now we are waiting on supply to increase,” Cooper added.
With Johnson & Johnson on the brink of approval from the FDA, state officials said they’re already taking steps to plan administration of the one-dose shot. According to clinical trials, Johnson & Johnson has a 72% efficacy rate in the U.S., 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa.
“Ease will be much greater and storage requirements won’t be as pressing as Pfizer,” Cooper said of the Johnson & Johnson dose.
“We are building capacity as we wait,” Cohen said, “even for a new third or fourth vaccine. But it’s hard for us to know how and where to execute until we know ballpark numbers. I hope to know more in coming weeks.”
The state continues to focus on groups 1 and 2 in the vaccine rollout, which includes ages 65 and older and frontline healthcare workers. Cohen announced 50% of group 2, 65 and older, have received the vaccine to date.
State officials announced it should soon know the date to open vaccinations to other groups — specifically frontline essential workers, including educators. Many have been vocal about earlier vaccination for teachers and school staff as districts begin to open some form of in-person learning across the state.
“This team is working on precise dates to give providers notification of when to move,” Cooper said. “We will be giving you this info after the team has talked to providers and worked through it.”
For now, the state is amping up its efforts to reach the Black and brown populations more equitably. Cooper and Cohen praised health departments, hospitals and community organizations that have come together to ensure outreach to these populations. To date, the state has grown its vaccination efforts in reaching the Black community, which makes up 22% of the population. It’s gone from an 11% vaccination rate to 18%.
Still, they admitted hard work was ahead to reach the 13% Latinx community, of which only 2% have received the vaccine.
“I am here today to encourage everyone, especially Black or brown people, to get a vaccine when your time comes,” Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and NC Association of Black County Officials President Charles Evans said. “Ethnic and racial injustices in our healthcare system has caused lack of trust in vaccines, but we have to gain control of our lives and get vaccinated.”
Vaccines are allocated to all 100 counties weekly, with additional “equity doses” distributed to areas with higher numbers of marginalized populations and underserved communities that are 65 and older.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ dashboard tracks vaccines by demographics to showcase fairness in distribution.
In Brunswick County, where one-third of the population is 65 and older, vaccine supply lags. The county has only received a baseline of 1,275 doses over the last three weeks.
“As far as Brunswick, our team had a call with vaccine providers there and others about making the adjustments and we appreciate everyone’s feedback as we go,” Cohen said. “Supply is incredibly low. We know our vaccine providers can deliver three times the vaccines that we are getting right now. We are hopeful to see more from two vaccines and a third approved by the FDA at end of month — we are hoping for more supplies by end of March.”
Hattie Gawande, deputy director of government affairs, met with Brunswick County Chairman Randy Thompson earlier today and said Brunswick will receive an additional 400 doses this week, Feb. 8-12, between Brunswick County Health Services and Novant Health.
“We are thankful for any additional doses that come our way, and continue to stress to our state partners how essential it is to receive this kind of consideration in future allocation decisions to ensure we can effectively vaccinate everyone in Brunswick County who wants or needs a vaccine,” Thompson said in a release.
As part of the federal pharmacy partnership, Walgreens will be opening as a vaccination site on Feb. 11, with supply coming from the federal government, as to not eat into state supplies. 300 sites will be serving North Carolinians across the state, including one in Leland. Though there still will be very limited supply, appointments are open for scheduling.
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