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North Carolinians 65 And Older Could Get COVID-19 Vaccines Under New Federal Guidance

Credit Courtesy CaroMont Health

North Carolina could start vaccinating residents ages 65 and older under new federal guidance announced by the Trump administration Tuesday. The federal government said it is no longer holding back second doses of the vaccine and is urging states to provide shots to anyone 65 and older.

“States should not be waiting to complete 1a priorities before proceeding to broader categories of eligibility,” U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“Think of it like boarding an airplane: You might have a sequential order in which you board people but you don’t wait until literally every person from a group has boarded before moving onto the next.”

But North Carolinians ages 65 and older can’t book a vaccine appointment just yet. State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that her agency would examine the recommendations and seek input from the state’s vaccine advisory committee.

“Getting this kind of advice in the middle of all of this is obviously very challenging," Cohen said. "But we will take a look at that and incorporate it into our work going forward.”

Gov. Roy Cooper said “one of the continuing problems” the state has had with the federal government is that it has “continued to shift its advice” on vaccine priorities.

Federal officials said Tuesday that the changes in distribution are designed to speed up the vaccine rollout nationwide. North Carolina, like many other states, has lagged in getting the vaccine doses it receives into people’s arms.

But that seems to be improving, according to Cohen. The state had a 113% increase in vaccinations over the past seven days compared to the week before and had administered at least 100,000 doses, Cohen said Tuesday.

North Carolina is currently vaccinating residents in Phase 1a of its vaccine plan, which includes health care workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients and people who live or work in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. It recently moved into the first group of Phase 1b, anyone 75 years and older.

Not everyone who’s been offered a COVID-19 vaccine is rolling up their sleeve. In Charlotte, only about half of Phase 1a health care workers at Atrium Health and Novant Health have signed up for vaccine appointments. Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease physician at Novant, told reporters Tuesday that vaccine hesitancy extends to health care workers nationwide.

Priest said the hesitancy is brought on by “misinformation and misunderstanding” about how the COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly. He said he expects the vaccine rate will go up as more workers see their friends and coworkers vaccinated.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have both received Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, are designed to protect people from becoming severely ill with COVID-19. It’s not yet clear, Priest said, whether someone who is vaccinated can still spread the virus to others. He said vaccinated people should still wear masks, stay six feet apart from people they don’t live with and wash their hands regularly.

“That frustrates people who think the vaccine is gonna immediately be a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Priest said. “We’re not quite there yet. We continue to take all of the precautions so that we don’t have our health care team members spreading the virus.”

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.