CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV/WITN) - North Carolina is opening up COVID-19 vaccines to those 65 years and older, Gov. Roy Cooper announced in a Thursday morning meeting.
Until Thursday, only those 75 years and older or those in Phase 1a were able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Providers that are able can now vaccinate all healthcare workers and those 65 and older,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
The change matches what the federal government recommended earlier this week.
However, the challenge for many health departments is that they do not have enough vaccine to meet the current demand.
“We have less vaccine in our state than the number of people that are eligible to get it at this moment,” Dr. Cohen said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.
In Mecklenburg County, appointments are booked through the month of January for frontline healthcare workers and people age 75 and older.
Moving forward, the county will determine if they can expand to people 65 and older.
“We don’t have guarantee of a significant increase in supply,” Dr. Meg Sullivan with Mecklenburg County said. “We appreciate everyone’s patience.
Mecklenburg County’s Deputy Health Director Raynard Washington tweeted updated guidance from the CDC Thursday.
The new vaccination structure includes 5 groups, as listed on the NCDHHS website:
- Anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe disease from COVID-19 such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, among others, regardless of living situation
- Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function
- Essential workers not yet vaccinated. The CDC defines these as workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (e.g., construction), finance (e.g., bank tellers), information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, public safety (e.g., engineers) and public health workers
Cohen says the new structure is an effort to provide more simplicity regarding who is being vaccinated, while prioritizing those at highest risk.
Each county across North Carolina is operating on a different timeline due to limited supplies. The vaccines currently available, Pfizer and Moderna, require two shots for effectiveness. “You won’t be fully immune to COVID-19 until two weeks after your second vaccine,” Cohen said.
Distribution is broken down into phases and groups. “Anyone” who wants to get a vaccine will be able to do so in Group 5, NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
“While there is still much to do, we head into 2021 with a powerful tool to stop this pandemic– vaccines,” Cohen said.
Mecklenburg County health leaders say vaccine supplies are still limited and appointments will be made available as that supply allows. “We will all work to get this vaccine out as soon as possible,” county leaders say.
When first announced, Phase 1b included adults 75 years old and older and frontline essential workers. “There is not enough vaccine in phase 1b for everyone to be vaccinated,” Cohen said, which is why distribution will be broken down into groups.
Below are the phases and groups provided by NCDHHS prior to Cooper’s recent announcement of opening vaccines now to those 65 and older.
- Health care workers caring for and working directly with patients with COVID-19, including staff responsible for cleaning and maintenance in those areas
- Health care workers administering vaccine
- Long-term care staff and residents—people in skilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes.
- Group 1: Anyone 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation
- Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older. The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers.
- Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age
Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness.
Vaccinations will happen by group in the following order:
- Group 1: Anyone 65-74 years old, regardless of health status or living situation
- Group 2: Anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe disease from COVID such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, among others, regardless of living situation
- Group 3: Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function.
- Group 4: Essential workers not yet vaccinated. The CDC defines these as workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (e.g., construction), finance (e.g., bank tellers), information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, and public safety (e.g., engineers), and public health workers.
Phase 3: Students
- College and university students
- K-12 students age 16 and over. Younger children will only be vaccinated when the vaccine is approved for them.
Phase 4: Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination.
“We are just into this,” Gov. Roy Cooper said of vaccine distribution. “We ask people to be as patient as you can.”
Its a chapter families have been waiting for, in this long journey of getting back to normal.
“All vaccine providers are expected to ensure that vaccine is administered equitably within each group,” NCDHHS says. “NCDHHS has a specific focus on building trust with historically marginalized populations. Longstanding and continuing racial and ethnic injustices in our health care system contribute to lack of trust in vaccines.”
The department says they’re partnering with trusted leaders and organizations to provide accurate information about COVID-19 vaccines to all North Carolinians and ensure equitable access to vaccines. To find FAQs and more vaccine information from NCDHHS, visit yourspotyourshot.nc.gov.