RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — All essential workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in North Carolina will now be able to receive a vaccination starting Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday.
The governor has now opened vaccinations to all of those under Group 3, which include workers in critical manufacturing, grocery store employees, farmworkers, college and university support staff, restaurant employees, firefighters and EMS, and law enforcement, among others.
North Carolina divided Group 3 into two phases, beginning with childcare workers and educators on Feb. 24.
Cooper had said that all other frontline essential workers would become eligible on March 10.
Now, the governor has greenlighted providers to give all frontline essential workers the vaccine beginning on March 3.
“The state and our providers continue to work extremely hard to get people vaccinated in a way that’s fast and fair,” said Gov. Cooper. “The third vaccine and improving vaccine supply will help us get more people vaccinated more quickly. Our essential frontline workers have remained on the job throughout this pandemic and I am grateful for their work.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes as the federal government has also increased vaccine in North Carolina beyond the state’s allocation.
A new federally-supported site will open in Greensboro next week, and Walgreens is providing vaccine through the federal pharmacy program.
This week, the state will receive more than 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, next week the state will receive no doses of that vaccine, according to state Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.
She added that she expects supply to pick back up by early April. In addition, the state will continue to receive increased supply of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which is why she and other state health officials feel confident they can move forward with this new timeline.
While there is still not enough vaccine for everyone, the improved supply has contributed to providers reporting readiness to expand access to additional Group 3 essential workers.
Under the timeline outlined today, providers may move to vaccinate these individuals on March 3. Sec. Cohen also unveiled a Public Service Announcement encouraging vaccine use among Group 3 essential workers.
State officials continue to encourage providers to exhaust each week’s vaccine shipment before the following week’s shipment arrives. Some vaccine providers may not be ready to open to frontline essential workers on March 3 if they are still experiencing high demand for vaccines in Groups 1, 2, and 3.
“This is a really exciting moment,” said Cohen. “A third COVID-19 vaccine means North Carolina can get more people vaccinated sooner and keep people out of the hospital and prevent deaths from this pandemic.”
Jason Smith, who is chef and owner of 18 Restaurant Group in the Triangle, said he’s excited about the opportunity for his employees to get vaccinated.
“Our staff has been able to safely serve, but now it’s going to take a whole other level of stress off,” he said.
He said he’s started to see customers returning for in-person dining who hadn’t visited in almost a year now that some people have received both doses of the vaccine.
While the lifting of the curfew last week has also helped to generate more business, he said the industry as whole will need help to survive long-term.
“Just opening up won’t put us in the clear. Many of us are going to have to pay back rent that we owe. For example, my credit line that I maxed out will start to hit in June,” he said. “PPP was very helpful, but it was a Band-Aid on a brain surgery. And, we need more assistance.”
Smith is offering his employees a bonus for getting vaccinated. He said in case anyone experiences any side effects and needs to take a day off, he wants to make sure they won’t miss that day’s pay.
The governor is also expected to receive a vaccine dose on Wednesday, according to a release from his office. Elected officials are a part of Group 3 in North Carolina when it comes to vaccinations.