RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A total of 11 North Carolina medical facilities will receive early shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine, the state Department of Health and Human Services said on Monday.

If it all goes as planned, some Triangle hospitals hope to begin vaccinating health care workers next week.

In central North Carolina, Duke, UNC, and Cape Fear Valley are on the list. They have enough special freezers to store the vaccines in ultra-cold conditions necessary, but they need the go-ahead from both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they can start vaccinating anyone.

“Dec. 10 is when the FDA meets; Dec. 14 is when the CDC subcommittee on vaccine practice meets, so it’s our anticipation that somewhere between the 10th and the 14th, if approvals go as expected, we will have our first shipment arrive,” said Dr. Cameron Wolfe. He’s been at the forefront of Duke’s fight against the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

“We are prepping to be ready to go as soon as we are given the all-clear. I see no reason to delay.”.

The first doses will go to workers in the health systems with the greatest risk of COVID exposure.

“It will be anybody who deals with COVID patients, so it will be, of course, the COVID floor. It’ll be the E.D. {Emergency Department}. That includes anybody who takes care of those patients: doctors, nurses, respiratory, EVS {Environmental Services} — anybody who comes in contact with those patients will be prioritized,” said Amanda Wright, who is the executive director of pharmacy for Cape Fear Valley Health System.

“We will be trying to distribute it to a range of groups as we view as being equally high risk,” Wolfe said. “We quite actively don’t want to give all the vaccine to the same group because we don’t want them to take time out of work or, heaven forbid, have some symptoms or side effects, which is not uncommon.”

Wolfe said the vaccines will be divided among hospitals, urgent care facilities, and other facilities within the health systems where workers are directly exposed to COVID-19 patients.

With rising numbers of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, doctors hope this will be the first step in slowing the pandemic, but it is only the beginning.

“We’re very excited we can start kind of on the road to trying to prevent this virus,” Wright said.

“If this is the night, it’s darkest before the light and the dawn,” Wolfe said. “You have your two vaccines that are profoundly effective — much more than I would’ve estimated if you had told me a few months ago this is what we’d see — and people should take great hope from that.”

The 11 facilities that will get the early shipments are:

  • Bladen Healthcare LLC (Bladen County Hospital)
  • Caldwell Memorial Hospital
  • CarolinaEast Medical Center
  • Catawba Valley Medical Center
  • Cumberland County Hospital System Inc (Cape Fear Valley Health System)
  • Duke University Health System
  • Henderson County Hospital Corporation (Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital)
  • Hoke Healthcare LLC (Hoke Hospital)
  • The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority (CMC Enterprise)
  • University of North Carolina Shared Services Agreement
  • Wake Forest Baptist Health

More hospitals will also get vaccine shipments during Phase 1a, NCDHHS said.

The list of facilities receiving the early shipments is small due to the limited supply of vaccines that will be made available.

“The initial supply of vaccines will all go to a limited number of hospitals to vaccinate health care workers at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 – those who are caring for or cleaning areas used by patients with COVID-19,” NCDHHS said.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of NCDHHS, said last week North Carolina could being receiving shipments of a vaccine by mid-December – if one is approved.