RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — As some North Carolina providers make all adults eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines, state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said she wants to ensure those providers are reaching out to the community to ensure people in priority groups understand they can get access.
She and Gov. Roy Cooper (D) toured a vaccination site in Greenville Friday, talking about the need to make the state’s vaccine distribution “fast and fair.”
“We want to make sure, are they really reaching out to all of their businesses that they can, for example. There are a lot of businesses that are frontline essential workers that have folks who have a health condition that puts them at high risk,” Cohen said. “It’s important for us to make sure that folks know they’re eligible. So, what we’re hearing really is folks didn’t realize that they have an underlying medical condition that puts them at risk and are eligible right now.”
This week, the state made the first part of Group 4 eligible, which includes people with high-risk medical conditions. But, in some parts of the state, local health officials say they’re prepared to move forward with making the entire adult population eligible.
Cape Fear Valley Health in Fayetteville announced Thursday they are accepting appointments for anyone 16 and older, adding they administered their 100,000th shot this week.
“This is partially because of a decrease in demand from the other parts of the local population. Rather than have doses go unused, we want to give more people the chance to get their vaccine. We hope this will encourage more people to roll up their sleeve,” said Vice President of Professional Services at Cape Fear Valley Health Chris Tart, PharmD, in a statement on Thursday.
Greene County in eastern North Carolina announced on Wednesday that all adults are eligible to receive the vaccine at the county’s health department. Craven County is also vaccinating all adults.
This is happening as the vaccine supply has increased compared to earlier this year. This week, the state was allocated almost 450,000 doses of the vaccines, which is more than double what the allocation was in late January, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services. That amount does not include allocations to federal programs.
State officials are also anticipating regular shipments of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine to resume in early April.
As of Friday, almost 27 percent of the state’s adult population is partially vaccinated and 17 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
Cooper noted Friday he still anticipates the state making all adults eligible by the May 1 goal set by President Joe Biden last week.
He also pointed out as the state pushes for increased supply of the vaccine, that supply will eventually be greater than the demand.
“And you’re seeing vaccine hesitancy being attacked on many fronts,” Cooper said. “Vaccine hesitancy spans across demographics right now. And, it’s going to be critical for us if we’re going to make it through this pandemic for a lot of people to get vaccinated.”
Town leaders in Morrisville worked with the Hindu Society of North Carolina to host a vaccine clinic Friday, administering more than 700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. With demand still high in Wake County, the clinic was open only to people in Groups 1-4, which the state has made eligible.
“Appointments were booked quickly,” said Morrisville Council Member Satish Garimella. “There are only a few centers, and people are literally scrambling,” he said.
But, he’s also looking ahead to when the supply is no longer an issue and trying to encourage more people in the community to be willing to get vaccinated.
“People still have reservations about the vaccines. So, if you go as a herd, saying hey these guys are getting it. They’ll say, OK, then I want to get it done,” he said.
Ritesh Patel, pharmacist with Eastern Carolina Medical Center Pharmacy and Avance Care Pharmacy, said he’s optimistic the supply of vaccine will increase quickly in the coming weeks and the state may be able to accelerate the timeline of making every adult eligible.
He said he wants to ensure there’s equity and fairness in people being able to get access to the vaccines.
He’s also trying to address concerns people have with getting vaccinated.
“I personally see our patients starting to change their minds,” he said. “People like us are out there, available to answer questions and hopefully get those misunderstandings out of the way so we can get shots into arms.”
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