RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said Tuesday that he expects the state to release more details this week about when Group 3 of vaccinations will begin, as employers seek clarity about the logistics of getting frontline essential workers vaccinated.
During a legislative meeting Tuesday, Andy Ellen of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association said they need “an estimated timeline.”
“They’re really concerned about, how do I navigate a hundred public health department systems, one in each county?” he said. “We have a lot of employers saying to us today, when are my eligible people going to be able to get a vaccine?”
Some teachers are also pushing to be vaccinated now that Cooper is calling for more in-person learning at schools and the General Assembly debates a bill this week that would require school dsitricts to offer the option of in-person learning.
Cooper said state officials are discussing the Group 3 rollout with providers this week and expect to give precise dates for that group to begin.
Group 3 includes about 583,000 frontline essential workers, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Some examples of those workers include: teachers, police officers, and grocery store employees.
With the supply of vaccine still limited, Cooper noted there are “thousands and thousands” of people on waiting lists who are currently eligible. The state is allowing those 65 and older to be vaccinated in addition to frontline health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday about 50 percent of seniors eligible in Group 2 have been vaccinated.
Dr. Philip Brown, president of the North Carolina Medical Society, praised state officials Tuesday for improving the distribution process after a slow start. He cautioned that moving into the next groups will bring new challenges that will require many more providers to be involved in administering vaccines.
“From the medical community in the state, we believe we have an army in place of medical providers at the ready to help diversify the distribution apparatus,” he said. “We need to really consider how to broaden this vaccination effort to include, really, every willing provider who can vaccinate human beings.”
During Tuesday’s legislative meeting, Republican and Democratic lawmakers from rural communities expressed frustration with mass vaccination events occurring while their communities struggle to get more doses of vaccine.
Rep. Wayne Sasser (R-67th District), who’s a pharmacist, said he wants the state to put the mass vaccination events on hold until more vaccines are approved by the FDA and become more widely available.
“There’s no equity if they’re taking vaccine away from my rural county and going to have a mega-site,” he said. “Let’s save those mega-events until we get more vaccine and not punish the marginalized population or rural community.”
Cohen said the state is receiving about 150,000 first doses of vaccine weekly. Of those doses, about 120,000 are being distributed to counties based on population. The remainder are allocated to communities with higher proportions of people 65 and older as well as historically marginalized communities, she said.
“We are not short on providers. We are short on vaccines,” she said.
Cooper said he learned on a call with President Joe Biden’s administration Tuesday that the state will receive a 5 percent increase in doses, but Cohen said it wasn’t clear yet precisely how that’s being calculated and what the end result will be for North Carolina.
Cooper signed a new executive order Tuesday.
Cohen said the state currently has the capacity to administer about three times as many doses as are being administered now but does not have the supply yet to meet that demand.