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COVID-19 vaccine eligibility process for all North Carolinian adults accelerated

Fourth year pharmacy student Vera Pervitsky prepares syringes at the end of a day of vaccinations at the Friday Center on Monday, Mar. 22, 2021. Pervitsky has been working around five shifts a month in vaccine prep since February. "I think it's really rewarding to be able to give back to the community... just to know you're making an impact," she said.

All adults in North Carolina will be able to be vaccinated soon following a new vaccine eligibility timeline announced by Gov. Roy Cooper on March 25. 

The new timeline allows the second part of Group 4, other essential workers and people in group living settings to become eligible for the vaccine March 31, one week earlier than anticipated. 

The Group 4 essential workers included are those identified in Group 3 who did not qualify for the frontline criteria and other critical sectors. Additionally, Group 4 includes individuals living in dormitories, Greek housing, off-campus communal apartments, homeless shelters and correctional facilities, and those who are experiencing homelessness. 

Group 5, which includes all other adults in North Carolina, will become eligible April 7. 

Dr. Charlene Wong, the chief health policy officer for COVID-19 at the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said the federal government informs the NCDHHS how many vaccines will be provided to the state each week. She said the NCDHHS then works to allocate that vaccine out to local vaccine providers across the state. 

Todd McGee, Orange County community relations director, said the county has seen progress in vaccinating individuals, but there is still a large demand for vaccines — despite the federal government's supply of vaccines increasing.

"The supply and demand is still a big issue," McGee said.

Wong said the NCDHHS is evolving its vaccine allocation methodology to address this problem.  

"Our goal in North Carolina is to vaccinate as many people as quickly and as fairly as possible," Wong said. 

The NCDHHS is working to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to underserved communities among historically marginalized populations through intentional outreach and engagement, according to an email from Bailey Pennington, communications specialist for the NCDHHS.

Wong said allocation is based on factors such as the number of unvaccinated people in counties and if there are large proportions of individuals of historically marginalized populations who are not vaccinated. 

She said vaccine manufacturers directly ship the vaccine to the local vaccine providers responsible for promoting vaccine appointments within their communities, such as clinics and events at local high schools and churches.

"The expectation is that when they are vaccinating North Carolinians, the demographic of the folks they are vaccinating should match or exceed the local county or regional demographics," Wong said.

John Bull, communications officer for prisons at the N.C. Department of Public Safety, said that the prison system had been getting a weekly allocation of vaccines from the NCDHHS since Jan. 20. 

Bull said the prison system in North Carolina is now receiving about 6,000 doses of the vaccine per week — 3,000 first doses and 3,000 second doses. 

"We have about a third of the offender population already at least partially vaccinated," he said.

Bull said there are around 29,000 inmates in the prison system. 

Vaccinations within the prison systems are entirely voluntary but highly encouraged to achieve herd immunity. 

When Group 5 becomes eligible on April 7, all adults in North Carolina will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

@DTHCityState |