CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - On Wednesday, frontline essential workers in North Carolina were allowed to start getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
But as thousands of people in the restaurant industry, grocery store workers, and manufacturing employees roll up their sleeves, there are thousands of others who are at great risk of having complications from the virus but are still waiting for their turn.
“It didn’t look good for quite a period of time,” 58-year-old Bruno Marcoccia said.
Marcoccia is lucky to be alive. The last three years have been a fight for survival. He was diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia. His life depended on cutting edge treatment to rid him of the cancer, and a bone marrow transplant. There was only one person on the registry that was a good match to him.
“When he ended up in the ICU twice and he almost died the second time, I said, well, he made it the first time and the specialist there just came in and he said, don’t kid yourself,” Elizabeth Marcoccia, Bruno’s wife said.
But time again, Marcoccia beat the odds. And just as he neared the finish line, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Basically, I have a baby’s immune system, a brand-new immune system that has to grow into maturity, and so I am considered high risk,” Marcoccia explained.
Which means the last year has been especially isolating for the Marcoccias.
“It terrified me for him, but I find it pretty unacceptable for a lot of people that, like him, are find themselves having to be careful extra long time,” Elizabeth Marcoccia said.
They were disappointed to see cancer patients weren’t eligible for the vaccine In North Carolina until group four out of five.
Charlotte Oncologist Dr. Justin Favaro says studies have shown cancer patients and survivors have a 20 to 40 percent chance of dying from the virus.
“I understand why frontline workers need to be vaccinated. But, as an advocate for cancer patients … I do believe that cancer patients should be in a higher group than they are now,” Favaro said.
The American Cancer Society Action Network sent a letter to all the governors including Gov. Roy Cooper encouraging them to follow CDC guidelines and place cancer patients in Tier 1.
“We also oppose efforts to move cancer patients to lower priority tiers,” Managing Director for the American Cancer Society Action Network John Hocter said.
And while cancer patients are slated for the vaccine starting March 24 in North Carolina, the Marcoccias feel it could still be sooner.
“It’s still not too late to address the situation by making now folks with pre-existing conditions eligible sooner rather than later,” Marcoccia said. “And putting us at an even footing with the essential workers.”
WBTV contacted NCDHHS to understand why cancer patients were placed in group four. A spokesperson for the agency said North Carolina’s group four is equivalent to the CDC’s Phase 1c. Phase 1c is where the CDC recommends cancer patients and other high risk individuals fall in line of priority.
NCDHHS’ full statement on the matter can be read here:
“People could be vaccinated in various groups based on age (e.g., age 65+ in Group 2), job role (e.g., essential frontline worker in Group 3), living situation (e.g., group home setting in Group 1), and qualifying condition (e.g., high-risk medical conditions in Group 4); and Group 5 will include everyone.
North Carolina will move to Group 4 on March 24, beginning with people with high-risk medical conditions, people experiencing homelessness, and incarcerated people who have not been vaccinated.
The vaccine prioritization is designed to save lives and prevent spread while vaccine supplies are limited. North Carolina continues to move through vaccination phases by aligning to federal priorities while giving local health departments and hospitals the needed flexibility to move to the next priority group based on vaccine supply and demand. We are aligned with CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in terms of priority order – phase 1a and phase 1b and 1c.
· ACIP First group 1a is Health Care Workers and LTC staff and residents.
o That now aligns with NCDHHS’s expanded Group 1. Check out the Deeper Dive into Group 1.
· ACIP Second group 1b includes people over 75 and frontline essential workers.
o This aligns with NCDHHS’ groups 2 (those 65+) and group 3 (frontline essential workers). We broke it out into 2 groups as it was a large group. In addition, we did decrease the age to people over 65 to align with updated CDC recommendations as a way to be more equitable as minority populations are underrepresented in older populations, a way to include more people with chronic conditions, and because people over 65 account for 85% of deaths from COVID-19. In addition, frontline essential workers include a population with a high proportion of people with high risk chronic conditions who have a high risk of exposure.
· ACIP Third group 1c is people 65 and over, people with high risk medical conditions, and other essential workers.
o This aligns with our group 4 and includes people with high risk conditions who do not have a high risk of occupational exposure and 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. This population includes anyone with conditions that have been identified by the CDC as increasing risk for severe COVID-19 illness. Check out NCDHHS’s Deeper Dive into Group 4.
More information on North Carolina’s vaccine rollout, including deep dives into the prioritization groups, can all be found at YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov.”