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Major Milestone: N.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine eligibility reaches everyone 16+ quicker than expected

Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 7:28 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - In mid-December, North Carolina hospitals and healthcare providers received the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

It was the first vaccine approved by the FDA, and a big push toward fighting and slowing the virus that made it to North Carolina, and the nation, nine months sooner.

The initial vaccine - Pfizer - was approved quicker than any had imagined.

Since then, progress has been made, and hope is in the future.

Currently, more than 5.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in North Carolina.

This comes as we look ahead to the most significant milestone in the vaccine rollout in the state.

On Wednesday, everyone older than 16 years of age will become eligible to get vaccinated, months ahead of schedule on many health officials, and political leaders, timeline.

That’s a feat worth celebrating.

The journey to reach this point did not start too long ago.

The first shipment of the vaccine arrived in North Carolina in December.

Cheers of joy and relief filled the halls of North Carolina hospitals when hope in a bottle arrived.

Dr. Katie Passaretti, with Atrium Health in Charlotte, was the first person in the state to receive the vaccination on Dec. 15.

Last week, Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12, a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before they head back to school in the fall.

In the vaccine study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots, Pfizer reported.

Rather than initially anticipating that everyone would become eligible for the vaccine in June, President Biden said he expects everyone to be eligible for the vaccine by April 19.

This comes about 13 1/2 months after the first COVID-19 case was reported in North Carolina on March 3, 2020.

Quickly after Pfizer was authorized for emergency use, a second vaccine -- Moderna - was approved, giving the nation re-enforcements in the battle with the coronavirus.

Still, vaccine distributions were sparse, which is why North Carolina, and all other states, administered the vaccine in groups.

Moderna was cleared for use on December 18, just a few days after Pfizer was approved, and arrived in North Carolina the following week.

Now, Moderna has begun a study of its COVID-19 vaccine in children younger than 12 — one that includes babies as young as 6 months.

The arsenal got stronger when Johnson & Johnson had its one-dose shot authorized by the FDA on February 27. About 80,000 of those initial doses came into North Carolina the following week.

North Carolina divided vaccine distributions into groups based on vulnerability.

Vaccine timeline
Vaccine timeline(WBTV)

In December, shots started going into the arms of frontline health care workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities.

Vaccine timeline
Vaccine timeline(WBTV)

By January, people age 65 and older started getting shots.

“This is awesome,” said Kent Gonnerman, who received his vaccination shots. “I’ll be back in three weeks for dose number two.”

This marked the start of mass vaccinations at the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Bank of America Stadium, Atrium Health giving out more than 20,000 shots in a weekend.

“It’s one of those things that we’re going really fast and we’re going really slow at the same time,” said Dr. Lewis McCurdy, with Atrium Health. “I think we’re further along than I would’ve thought at this point.”

Vaccine timeline
Vaccine timeline(WBTV)

In February, frontline essential workers started getting their turn.

“I finally feel as teachers we are getting a little bit of respect,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher Rebecca Messer.

Vaccine timeline
Vaccine timeline(WBTV)

In March, appointments opened to people in high-risk categories and people in congregate living settings

Vaccine timeline
Vaccine timeline(WBTV)

And starting April 7, anyone who wants a shot is eligible to get it.

“I think we’re in as good of shape as we could be right now,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “I don’t think any of us had imagined that we would be where we are with the number of people we have vaccinated with this safe and effective vaccine.”

Appointments can still be tough to find.

However, Gov. Cooper expects that won’t be the case too much longer.

“Pretty soon we’re gonna be encouraging people to get it because we do know at some point we will hit that peak of supply outweighing demand,” Cooper said.

Thousands of appointments are open through StarMed.

Wednesday morning, Mecklenburg County will open more appointments online at 8:30 a.m.

To schedule these appointments, go to starmed.care.

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