NORTH CAROLINA — North Carolina plans to set up several mass vaccination sites across the state to help boost the coronavirus vaccine rollout, according to Gov. Roy Cooper.
The governor and Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen announced the 10 “high-throughput sites” Tuesday at a COVID-19 news conference.
NCDHHS said the sites will be set up in the following locations:
- Forsyth County
- Vidant Health (eastern North Carolina)
- Cone Health (Guilford County)
- Atrium Health (Charlotte and surrounding counties)
- UNC Health (Orange County clinics)
- Duke Health (Durham)
- WakeMed (Wake County)
- Western North Carolina collaboration with Dogwood, MAHEC and FQHCs
According to Cohen, the sites will be operational within the next week and will add more than 45,000 vaccinations a week to the state’s totals, accelerating what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called “one of the worst vaccination rates in the country.”
Data from the CDC on Monday ranked North Carolina as the 10th slowest state in the country per capita in administering doses. A fourth of the more than 820,000 doses distributed thus far to North Carolina have been administered, according to state data shared with the CDC.
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NCDHHS has allowed counties across North Carolina to head their own vaccination operations, leading to inconsistencies and slowdowns. But the secretary defended her department’s decision, saying they wanted to ensure all 100 counties across the state received a shipment of the vaccine.
“I think what we’re trying to find is that right balance of speed, as well as that geographic distribution,” Cohen said. “But we also want to be focused on other types of equity we were talking about. Making sure that our African American and Hispanic Latinx communities are having access to the vaccine as well. So we’re trying to employ a lot of strategies and we will continue to evolve this to make sure we’re solving for speed, and we’re solving for equity at the same time.”
Cohen said the state’s vaccination rate is improving and that the state saw a 113% increase in vaccines given over the last seven days.
She praised Iredell and Robeson counties for exhausting their supplies and not keeping any doses on the shelf but acknowledged other systems have unnecessarily reserved extra supply out of fear the federal government will fail to ship secondary doses.
North Carolina’s slow pace is not unusual, given many states are have vaccinated around 2% to 3% of their populations. Production will only continue to ramp up, with vaccines being more widely available by the late spring or early summer.
A number of factors have contributed to North Carolina’s rocky rollout. Cohen pointed to ever-changing federal guidance complicating matters.
A CDC advisory panel urged states to give higher priority to adults 75 years or older a week into vaccine distribution.
President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to once again update its guidelines to expand preference to those who are at least 65 years old. The administration also plans to stop holding back millions of second doses.
“I’m all for course corrections in the middle, but understand course corrections mean that we have to change what we’re doing and it means the plans that were put in place do need to adjust,” Cohen said. “We’re going to incorporate new guidance as fast as we can and keep moving forward and continue with that sense of urgency of wanting to get vaccine out.”
She also said the fact that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come in bundles of 975 and 100, respectively, has “hamstrung” the state’s ability to more flexibly distribute the vaccine. The state has sent vaccines to all 100 counties, which improved regional access but added logistical hurdles. Navigating a new IT system also has challenged some local health departments.
Adding to the delays is vaccine hesitancy among nursing home workers and the absence of a statewide system for scheduling vaccine appointments.
Some counties have been overwhelmed by calls coming into their public health departments to schedule appointments, others lack an online sign-up portal and a few have been forced to turn away people due to limited supply.
Cohen reported more than 257,000 doses were administered by Monday throughout the state.
Rowan County Health Director Nina Oliver supports North Carolina’s new mass vaccination sites, but questions how the state can spare extra doses for the sites when some local counties have had a hard time getting vaccine.
“I’m glad to see these sites opening up, but if they can do 45,000 vaccines at these sites, I’m wondering could those vaccines be shipped to other counties to vaccinate our community?” Oliver said.
For weeks, several counties have talked about having limited supply of the vaccine. On Monday, Rowan County health officials had to shut down a drive-thru vaccination clinic early because the demand was so high.
“We are not getting the amount of vaccine that we need. Every week we get allocated, but we are getting rid of it quick,” she said. “Last week we only got 100. What are we gonna do with 100? Luckily we were able to get some from Novant so we had enough to use at the clinic Monday.”
Channel 9 asked state health officials where the doses for the new mass vaccination sites are coming from. We did not receive an answer to that question, but officials responded by saying they have vaccinated more than 100,000 people in the past seven days -- a 113% increase over the previous seven days.
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