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Here's what you need to know about North Carolina's updated COVID-19 vaccination plan

North Carolina updated its vaccination plan on Jan. 14,  allowing people 65 and older to register for the vaccine, but distribution has been complicated by logistical hurdles and limited supplies. 

Here's what this update means for the statewide vaccine rollout: 

How is the vaccine distributed?

The federal government delivers vaccines to each state every week based on the size of its adult population. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services is then responsible for distributing doses to vaccine providers, like hospitals and county health departments.

Vaccines are also assigned differently to staff and residents of long-term care facilities. The federal government formed a contract with Walgreens and CVS to administer most vaccinations in skilled nursing facilities, adult care homes and retirement communities. 

In order for states to participate, they are required to allocate some of their vaccine doses to the program. Some health departments, including Orange County, are also helping vaccinate long-term care residents. 

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced in a Jan. 14 press briefing large community vaccination events in 23 counties. Doses for these events were reassigned from vaccine providers unable to administer their full supply.  

How has the vaccination plan changed? 

Cohen also announced on Jan. 14 that North Carolina is in Phase 2 of vaccine distribution, meaning people 65 or older are now eligible to receive the vaccine. The updated vaccination plan also simplifies many of the previous categories. 

Here are the phases of the updated vaccination plan:

  • Phase 1: Health care workers and long-term care staff and residents
  • Phase 2: Anyone 65 and older regardless of health status or living situation
  • Phase 3: Frontline essential workers
  • Phase 4: Adults at high risk for exposure and increased risk of severe illness
  • Phase 5: Finally, anyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one.

While college and high school students were formerly prioritized over the general population, they are now assigned to Phase 5 that includes anyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine. The new plan also lowered the age for Phase 2 recipients from 75 to 65 and placed frontline essential workers in their own phase.

People who are are at high risk for exposure, including those who are incarcerated or living in closed-group settings, have been moved from Phase 2 to Phase 4. 

“We wanted to focus on simplicity and speed,” Cohen said at the briefing.  “We know that there has been more confusion than there needs to be, and we are definitely hearing the message about simplicity and speed, so that is why we are trying to be clear.”

When will I receive the vaccine? 

North Carolina is in Phase 2 of its vaccine distribution plan, meaning vaccine providers can now administer doses to all health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and people 65 and older. 

However, Cohen said people who are eligible may still have to wait to receive the vaccine. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while more than 1.1 million doses have been distributed to the state, less than 475,000 have been administered

Todd McGee, Orange County community relations director, said the health department has had less difficulty administering the vaccine. Instead, it has far more people trying to register for the vaccine than doses to administer.

McGee said registering people 65 and over for vaccination is challenging because the group is much larger than the number of available doses.

“Until we start seeing an increased supply of the vaccine, there's really no way to forecast when we're going to move into the next phase,” McGee said. 

McGee estimated that the county is receiving somewhere around 15,000 doses each week. 

Orange County has administered 14,677 doses as of Jan. 21. 

“One of the things we want to make sure people understand is we haven't wasted a single dose,” McGee said “Every vaccine that we received, we’ve been prepared to use.”

I am eligible to receive the vaccine. Where can I sign up?

Cohen said the simplest way to register for the vaccine is by visiting

The website includes a ‘Find Vaccine Locations’ page with a list of vaccine providers in each county, including contact information and links to each provider’s website.

What happens when I come for my vaccination?

Laura Dorsey, a volunteer at an Orange County vaccination site, said the process moves quickly. 

The site where she volunteers is outdoors, so most patients are screened, registered and vaccinated in their cars. Dorsey said the whole process takes most patients less than 30 minutes. She said plans to continue to volunteer in the future, rain or shine. 

“We did it last Friday, and it started raining halfway through,” Dorsey said, “So it was cold, it was rainy and it was so fun.”


@DTHCityState |