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Lacking Statewide Plan, NC Counties Brainstorm How To Vaccinate Homebound Residents

Atrium Health

In recent weeks, thousands of people have crowded stadiums and arenas in Charlotte for COVID-19 vaccines. But mass vaccination events like the one at the Charlotte Motor Speedway or Bank of America Stadium don’t help seniors who are confined to their homes because of a disability or illness, those with sensory issues or those who don’t have access to transportation.

“If you don’t have the luxury of having transportation at your beck and call to drive there, sit in a car and wait for a very long period of time, you’re not going to be able to participate,” said Corye Dunn, director of public policy for Disability Rights North Carolina.

The state is currently vaccinating people in the first two groups of its vaccine plan: health care workers, people who live or work in long-term care facilities and anyone ages 65 and older.

But the Department of Health and Human Services does not have a statewide plan for how to administer vaccine doses to homebound residents.

“Anyone who is homebound and is eligible, I would encourage them to get in touch with their local departments and others to see if there are ways in which we can work out vaccination efforts,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary, at a press conference this week.

In the absence of statewide guidance, county health departments are brainstorming solutions.

The Cabarrus Health Alliance, which acts as Cabarrus County’s health department, plans to use paramedics, according to Erin Shoe, the county’s interim public health director. Shoe said the county will launch a system next week that allows residents to add themselves, a friend or a loved one to a waiting list. Then, she said, paramedics will schedule appointments and travel door to door administering vaccines.

“They will be able to answer questions and then they’ll also do the second dose visit with the appropriate time frame,” Shoe said.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said at a press conference Wednesday that her team is in “the planning stages” of how to get shots to homebound people. She said the county health department is currently vaccinating health care workers who visit individual’s homes.

“As we get into vaccines like Johnson & Johnson, which is a one shot, it will be easier to address the needs of those particular populations,” Harris said.

Adam Gaub, a spokesman for Gaston County, said in an email Thursday that the county health department is “still hammering out specifics.”

There’s no clear definition for “homebound,” according to Dunn, so it’s difficult to track how many state residents fall into that category. For some sense of an estimate, about 18,000 older people receive home-delivered meals through the Meals on Wheels program in North Carolina.

Copyright 2021 WFAE.  For more go to WFAE.org

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.