The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and N.C. Department of Transportation are allocating $2.5 million to local transit agencies across the state to provide transportation to COVID-19 vaccination clinics.
As NCDHHS officials aim to meet their goal of administering all first doses of vaccines at each access point across the state, technical difficulties have surfaced. While many local public transit agencies have already gone fare-free to make transportation more accessible amid the conditions of the pandemic, some residents may struggle to access adequate transportation to vaccination sites.
Find out more about North Carolina's vaccination distribution plan.
The $2.5 million in funding decision came soon after Gov. Roy Cooper launched the “Your Spot, Your Shot” initiative, an online tool N.C. residents can use to find out when and where they can receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Eric Boyette, secretary of the NCDOT, said in a Jan. 21 press briefing that the average cost of transit to vaccination sites statewide can be high, totaling $44 round trip for an individual’s first round of the vaccine. To receive both doses, it costs approximately $88 dollars per individual.
"It looks about 30,000 individuals we'll be able to cover with this money," Boyette said.
In Orange County, public transit has gone fare-free to help residents get to their vaccines. Theo Letman, director of Orange County Transportation Services, said in an email the county's estimated allocation of funding is around $27,400.
"Without knowing the population that is expected to need transit services to vaccination sites, it is difficult to forecast, at this time, if the allocation for Orange County is sufficient," Letman said in an email.
Letman said in Orange County, the funding will be allocated for costs associated with providing trips, like personnel costs, fuel, personal protective equipment and sanitation of vehicles.
GoTriangle, which offers transit services for the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, is another transportation agency that has gone fare-free. Scott Thomas, GoTriangle’s chief communications officer, said it’s unclear at this time if GoTriangle will incorporate additional routes to vaccination clinics.
“We’re just here to help our community in any way we can, and transportation will be a part of that solution," Thomas said.
Mark Marcoplos, a former Orange County commissioner, said the allocation of funding will help supplement the operating costs of local transit agencies.
“They’re taking a financial hit, and it’s going to help them to have an infusion of this money just for their own operating costs,” Marcoplos said.
As of Wednesday, more than 1,142,000 total doses of vaccine have been distributed statewide. The state is attempting to make the vaccination campaign an equitable process. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the NCDHHS, said in the Jan. 21 press briefing that vaccine providers are responsible for making vaccines accessible to historically marginalized communities.
"That starts with meeting people where they are with event locations and partnering with health care providers who serve those historically marginalized communities," Cohen said.
Access to transit to vaccine sites is also important for older residents, which is why the NCDOT factored in older populations of individual counties in their allocation of funding, Letman said.
Thomas said being able to provide vaccine transportation to anyone who needs it is ultimately more important than funding.
“I think the big question now is availability of vaccines,” he said.