RALEIGH, N.C. (AP/WNCN) — North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen says most nursing home workers are refusing coronavirus vaccines. This comes as the state sees one of the slowest rollouts in the nation.
Cohen told the Associated Press that vaccine hesitancy among long-term care staff is “concerning,” given the anecdotal reports the state has gathered thus far.
“I caution it’s anecdotal, but we are definitely hearing that more than half (are) declining (the vaccine), and that is concerning,” Cohen told the Associated Press.
Gov. Roy Cooper is deploying National Guard members to help accelerate COVID-19 vaccinations. Cohen says some will serve as vaccinators. Other members will help with logistics of vaccination events.
N.C. National Guard officials said 50 members had been mobilized Monday and Tuesday to help with vaccination efforts.
Nearly 110,000 people in North Carolina had received their first dose as of Tuesday morning.
This represents less than 1% of the state’s population of 10.5 million people. Hospital workers were the first in line to receive doses.
Several counties will soon begin administering doses to the elderly people 75 years or older.
Cohen spoke about to CBS 17 about the differences among various counties.
“Some of them are doing great and running fast with vaccinations and are running fast. And, others just need more support. Sometimes, it’s logistical help. Sometimes, it’s vaccinators themselves. And, that’s where I think the National Guard can plug some of those holes and fill some of those gaps for us,” she said.
The move came two days after North Carolina Rep. Billy Richardson (D-44), sent a letter to the governor, State House Speaker Tim Moore, and State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger requesting that an emergency service of the General Assembly be called in order to send the National Guard out to help assist with vaccine distribution and administration.
Lauren Horsch, spokeswoman for Berger, released a statement in response to the mobilization that read:
“The reports that North Carolina is one of the states with the lowest per-capita vaccination rates are troubling. Though a vaccine was created sooner than expected, the state had months to prepare a distribution plan. It’s inexcusable for vaccines to sit on the shelf for as long as they have. It’s good that the Governor realizes that and plans to mobilize the National Guard. We are waiting to see if there is a plan behind that announcement.”
The state has administered about one-quarter of the COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed to the state, according to the CDC.
Regarding the planning for the vaccine rollout, CBS 17 asked Dr. Cohen, “Was there at any point a concern that the hospitals were going to be overwhelmed not only from dealing with the people dealing with COVID-19 but then simultaneously having to handle this new vaccination administration program? Did they need help from the outside sooner than this?”
“It’s a great question. And, we are in constant conversations with our hospitals about their capacity,” she said. “This is a lot of what they do, day in and day out, year after year. They do vaccinations. And, we wanted to prioritize as a state getting to all 100 counties quickly. And so, we wanted to use the infrastructure we have. But, we know some folks are running ahead and doing great and others need more support.”
North Carolina is among the slowest states to administer the vaccine, according to CDC data.
“Well, first I would say we’re just two to two-and-a-half weeks into this. We all share that sense of urgency of moving fast,” Cohen said in response to that. “We prioritized getting it out to our entire geography while there are some states that kept it at more high-throughput sites.”
She continued, “Yes, we need to improve our operations. Yes, we want to get faster. But, I think we’re still in that place where we do not have enough vaccine to meet all of the demands that are out there.”
The state sent a letter to hospitals and local health departments this week regarding issues with getting accurate data about doses administered.
The letter, which is signed by Dr. Amanda Fuller Moore of DHHS, noted that daily vaccination counts and daily inventory levels don’t always match and that there are some duplicate records in the system.
She writes, “Further, this data may be considered by the CDC in determining how to allocate constrained supply to the states. So, any locations failure to provide accurate and complete data can impact the vaccine supply to the entire state.”
Dr. Cohen said that despite those issues, communities can still move forward with entering Phase 1B this week, making the vaccine available to people who are 75 years and older. However, supplies continue to be limited, making it uncertain precisely when each county will be able to begin that process.
“We’re not going to let data stop us from moving fast. So, if folks are ready to move, we want them to move,” she said. “If the system says they haven’t given out all their vaccines, we’re going to make choices to potentially not give them more.”
She noted this next phase will have its own logistical issues as providers adopt different methods for scheduling vaccinations and notifying people about getting their second dose.
“This is something we’re all doing for the first time. So, no, I think we’re going to learn as we go here,” she said. “But, I think we will mature that over the next number of weeks. I think we’re going to learn what that process is, get better at it as we go. So, I think there will be some growing pains here. I want to alert folks that I think that will happen.”