Local News

NC clearing backlog of vaccine doses

Posted January 26, 2021 6:33 a.m. EST
Updated January 26, 2021 7:54 p.m. EST

— Health care providers across North Carolina have administered 95 percent of the first doses of coronavirus vaccine the state has received to date, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen said Tuesday.

About 260,000 of those 630,000 first doses were given the last week, Cohen said. Together with the required second dose of each of the two available vaccines, North Carolina providers have administered more than 810,000 doses to date, she said.

"[This] demonstrates to the federal government that North Carolina is ready to take on more vaccine and we need those additional vaccines now," she said during an afternoon news conference.

Coronavirus vaccinations in NC

The next shipment of 120,000 doses is expected Wednesday, but Cohen said state officials hope the federal allocation will increase over time now that North Carolina has almost exhausted its available supply.

President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the government would increase state allotments by 17 percent over the next few weeks as his administration pushes to have up to 150 million doses administered by the end of April.

A large chunk of North Carolina's next 120,000-dose shipment has already been committed to mass vaccination clinics set up weeks ago when the state was trying to clear its backlog of available doses, she said. So, supplies to many counties will be extremely limited in the coming weeks.

"This week is going to seem particularly tight, with many providers getting small or no allocations," Cohen said.

The supply issue has caused frustrations for providers and state residents, as as clinics struggle to meet the demand for vaccinations.

On Monday, the Orange County Health Department said its clinic had run out of first doses, and it wasn't clear when it would get more from the state. County officials sent out a notice that it could be weeks or even months before all health care workers and people age 65 or older is vaccinated.

"We have not gotten any new first-dose vaccines in the last three weeks," Orange County spokesman Todd McGee said Tuesday. "We have the capacity to ramp up. It's just a matter of [getting] the vaccine."

Meanwhile, Wake County received fewer vaccines than expected this week and was slowing down appointment-only vaccinations as a result. Clinics in Cumberland and Lee counties were open primarily for those getting their second dose of the vaccine.

To give providers more stability, Cohen said, the state has committed to divvying up 84,000 doses of its weekly allotment from the federal government among all 100 counties, based on population. Providers will be given a minimum number of doses they can expect over the next three weeks, making it easier to hold clinics and schedule appointments, she said.

The remaining 36,000 doses each week will be used to readjust vaccine distribution, both geographically and in "marginalized communities," to ensure vaccine is getting to places where it's needed most, she said.

"We continue to expect vaccine providers to use all first doses each week or transfer them to a provider that can," she said. "We will always have supply of second doses on hand ... but those first doses need to be off the shelf and given to people each and every week."

More than 100,000 doses have been transferred among providers statewide to get them administered more quickly, she said.

Pushing the number of first doses administered to close to 100 percent of the state's allotment, Cohen said, would put North Carolina "at the front of the line" for obtaining larger weekly distributions from the government.

"In the coming weeks, there may be more opportunity for more vaccine. That's why I want all of our providers to be at the ready," she said. "I want to make sure that we are ready to say to the federal government, 'Yes, we can take this right now, today, and get it out quickly.'"

WRAL News reporter Keely Arthur contributed to this report

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