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Cooper opens vaccines to all frontline essential workers Wednesday, expands into Group 4 by end of March

Gov. Cooper says all frontline essential workers can get vaccinated starting Wednesday, Mar. 3; Group 4 gradually opens on Mar. 24. (Port City Daily/File)

According to state officials, more vaccine is coming into North Carolina this week, including over 80,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 215,000 first doses and 160,000 second doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Because of the increase, Gov. Roy Cooper announced opening the rest of Group 3’s frontline essential workers on Wednesday, Mar. 3 — seven days earlier than originally slated.

Group three includes law enforcement, firefighters, U.S. Postal Service carriers, corrections workers, veterinarians, food and beverage industry workers, manufacturing employees, clergy, government officials, among others.

As well, Group 4 will be allowed to get vaccinated as early as Mar. 24, according to the governor. The group will be opened in phases, first serving folks with high-risk medical issues, people experiencing homelessness, and inmates. Thereafter, it will serve “other essential workers and other people in close group living settings,” according to the state.

Group 4 consists of adults at high risk of exposure and severe illness:

  • Asthma (moderate to severe)
  • Cancer
  • Cerebrovascular disease or history of stroke 
  • Chronic kidney disease 
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Dementia or other neurologic condition 
  • Diabetes type 1 or 2 
  • Down Syndrome 
  • A heart condition such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertension or high blood pressure 
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from: immune deficiencies, HIV, taking chronic steroids or other immune weakening medicines, history of solid organ blood or bone marrow transplant
  • Liver disease, including hepatitis 
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Overweight or obesity  
  • Pregnancy 
  • Sickle cell disease (not including sickle cell trait) or thalassemia 
  • Smoking (current or former, defined as having smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime)

It also includes people living in a close group setting:

  • People experiencing homelessness or living in a homeless shelter
  • Correctional facility, such as jail or prison

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will come through N.C. on Wednesday and Thursday and be distributed in 33 counties. Cohen said it will go to 43 events outside of scheduled appointments already in place.

“We already see these vaccinations are having a positive effect on Covid numbers,” the governor said, referring to some residual immunity already taking effect. “That’s a reason for optimism.”

N.C.’s top health official Mandy Cohen made it clear there is no guarantee on weekly supply moving forward. In fact, she said the state expects to see a dip next week from Johnson & Johnson. Then it will receive a lower amount, but by the end of the month should be receiving more than 80,000 doses per week moving forward.

N.C. has administered 2.5 million shots, with over 60% given to the 65-and-over population. Because of its efficiency, it’s one of 18 cities the federal government has chosen to host a large-scale FEMA event. By March 10, a mass vaccination site will be set up in Greensboro at the Four Seasons Town Centre. It will operate 12 hours a day to administer 3,000 shots a days for at least eight weeks, officials said.

“A real advantage of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is it’s one shot and easily stored,” the governor said.

Cohen clarified patients will know which shot they are getting, especially to understand if a return visit for a second dose is needed. However, “shot shopping” isn’t necessarily an option for patients, some of which are showing a common concern over Johnson & Johnson having a 72%-85% efficacy, much less than Pfizer or Moderna.

However, Cohen was clear the vaccine is safe, 100% effective against death and highly effective against severe Covid-19 symptoms.

“I plan to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week,” the frontline essential worker said.

“I’m happy to get any vaccine right now,” Cooper added.

Though the state has allowed the rest of Group 3 to open as of Mar. 3 and Group 4 to open Mar. 24, officials made it clear that some vaccine providers may not fold in these other groups until previous ones have been vaccinated in greater numbers. It’s essentially up to providers how to handle it.

Folks unsure where they land can find their vaccination group here.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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