RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State lawmakers grilled Dr. Mandy Cohen Tuesday about the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina, questioning why the state has ranked among the slowest in the nation when it comes to administering the doses it has received.
Cohen said officials prioritized getting doses across the state, but there have been inconsistencies with how efficiently some locations have administered those shots.
“Our decision to prioritize every single county and say we want to have an access point in every county does mean that there are going to be some counties that are great and some that struggle,” she said. “Our job, I think at the state level, is to facilitate those that are struggling to help them figure out how can we do this (in a way) that’s better.”
Cohen said about 257,000 doses have been administered in North Carolina, which includes almost 38,000 administered at long-term care facilities through the federal government’s partnership with CVS and Walgreens. The CDC reports more than 836,000 doses have been distributed to the state as of Tuesday.
“We want to be waiting on the vaccine, not having vaccines on shelves,” said Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth).
Cohen said the pace of vaccinations has started to increase, noting about 100,000 doses were administered in the last week.
In terms of the percentage of shots administered out of what’s been distributed, North Carolina has been among the lowest states. Nationally, the CDC reports about one-third of shots have been administered.
“Why are so many states doing better than us?” asked Sen. Ralph Hise (R-47th District).
Cohen cited a few different issues that have arisen since the vaccine distribution began, including changing federal guidelines, the holiday season and the lack of a statewide method to schedule appointments.
“I think there are a lot of folks that are doing very well at this, and I applaud them for the work that they’re doing. And then, there are some that have vaccine sitting on the shelf and that’s not acceptable,” Cohen said. “Some of our providers were holding back doses because they were worried they weren’t going to get a second dose. And so, we had to continually reassure people that allocation is coming from the federal government.”
Cohen said she’s identified ten “high-throughput sites” that have shown they can administer the vaccine efficiently and plan to be able to do about 45,000 vaccinations in a week.
Those sites include: WakeMed, UNC-Orange County clinics and Duke Health.
Currently, the state is in Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, now allowing anyone 75 and older to get the vaccine in addition to healthcare workers helping COVID-19 patients as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
On Tuesday, federal health officials said they’re asking governors to allow people 65 and older to get vaccinated as well as younger people with certain health issues.
The federal government will also stop holding back second doses of vaccine.
The CDC just revised its prioritization list a few weeks ago after the vaccines started to roll out.
“One of the continuing problems that we have had with the federal government is that they have continued to shift their advice on what the priorities for the vaccine should be,” Governor Roy Cooper said Tuesday.
Cooper said Cohen and other health experts would review this latest guidance to see how it can be implemented in North Carolina.
“I’m all for course-corrections in the middle, but understand course corrections mean we have to change what we’re doing. And, it means the plans we put in place do need to adjust,” Cohen said.
During Tuesday’s legislative meeting, Sen. Jim Burgin (R-12th District) raised concerns about people waiting at vaccination sites overnight as some counties offer the vaccine on a first-come-first-served basis.
“Why are we letting counties do different things? The people that control the vaccine, and that’s you, should be able to dictate how we do this,” Burgin said.
“We are asking folks to try to do appointment, but I think they are also working out the efficiencies of those appointments,” Cohen said.
Cohen was also asked about people crossing state lines to get the vaccine. She said under direction from the federal government, the state cannot deny someone from out of state.