RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State health officials announced a revised plan for administering COVID-19 vaccines, allowing anyone age 75 and older to receive a vaccine in the next round of vaccinations beginning in January.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Dept. of Health and Human Services, said the revisions are meant to align with the latest recommendations from a CDC advisory group.
Dr. Cohen noted it will still likely be several months before anyone who wants to get vaccinated will be able to do so.
“With the limited supply of vaccine, we think this could be well into the spring,” she said. “I think everyone across the state that is working on vaccine administration wants to make sure that we can get it to people as quickly as possible.”
Here’s how the prioritization list looks now:
Those in Phase 1a – health care workers battling the virus and long-term care residents and staff – are currently being vaccinated.
Phase 1b will begin in early January, Cohen said. Group 1, which could consist of as many as 2 million people, will be anyone 75 years or older, regardless of medical conditions and living situation. Group 2 will be health care and frontline essential workers who are 50 years or older. Group 3 will be health care and frontline workers of any age, regardless of whether they work directly with COVID-19 patients.
The CDC defines essential workers as: first responders, education, manufacturing, corrections officers, grocery store, public transit, food and agriculture, and US postal workers.
Further, Phase 2 – adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness – is also broken down into groups. The first is anyone between the ages of 65 and 74, regardless of medical conditions or living situation. Group 2 is anyone ages 16-64 with a medical condition that increases their risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The third is anyone incarcerated or in other close living settings. Group 4 is essential workers who have not yet been vaccinated.
It’s unclear when Phase 2 will begin.
Phase 3 is high school and college students 16 and older. Younger children will be in this phase, too, once the vaccine is approved for them.
Phase 4 is anyone who wants the vaccine but hasn’t yet received one.
“Ours follows pretty closely what the CDC recommendation is,” said Gov. Cooper of the plan.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger released a statement Wednesday criticizing aspects of it, including that it would lead to some people in their early 60s being vaccinated after college students.
“I understand the concern that college students spread the virus – but the whole basis for that concern is they spread the virus to older people who might die. We should vaccinate those older people first,” Berger said. “As it stands now, this system puts people in their 60s dead last. It does not strike me as fair or equitable to prioritize a 19-year-old over a 64-year-old just because that 19-year-old is in prison or in college.”
Cooper said he spoke with legislative leaders Wednesday about vaccine distribution and the potential for the General Assembly to pass legislation to address the potential for people to cut the line or deviate from the prioritization list.
Dr. Cohen said she’s also asked the state’s licensing boards to look at the issue as well.
“There are opportunities for someone to stray from that, for jumping the line, whether it was through a family member, a board member a donor. And, particularly concerned about seeing anyone profit financially from this,” she said. “If there is something that we have seen that we believe is not in line with that guidance, they get a call from me or my senior team. And, I have found folks to be incredibly receptive to coming back into the guidelines.”
As of this week, the CDC says 583,850 first doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been allotted to North Carolina. State data shows 63,571 people have actually received their first dose so far. DHHS says that number does not include people in long-term care facilities. Those vaccinations are being managed by the federal government through contracts with CVS and Walgreens, the agency said, and state officials are still trying to get access to the data from those companies.
President-elect Joe Biden criticized the vaccination rollout this week, saying the country is falling “far behind.”
U.S. Health and Human Services Sec. Alex Azar said earlier this month that 20 million people could get vaccinated in the “next several weeks.” Just over two million doses had been administered as of Tuesday, according to the CDC.
“But, as I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should,” Biden said.
President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, “The Federal Government has distributed the vaccines to the states. Now it is up to the states to administer. Get moving!”
Leaders of Operation Warp Speed responded Wednesday to the criticism of the pace of the initial rollout.
“Vaccine allocations or uptake usually starts out a little slow and then it increases exponentially and very rapidly,” said Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operation officer of Operation Warp Speed.