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Vaccine schedule accelerating again, with all NC adults eligible for shots in 2 weeks

Posted March 25, 2021 12:09 p.m. EDT
Updated March 26, 2021 5:43 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina is once again speeding up the schedule for coronavirus vaccinations, and all adults in the state who want a shot will be eligible for one in two weeks, Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday.

"Vaccines are the key to moving us forward," Cooper said during an afternoon news conference. "We've been faster and have gotten more supply than anticipated, and that's fantastic."

The state has already pushed up the vaccination schedule twice, allowing both front-line workers in key industries and people with chronic health conditions to become eligible a week earlier than expected.

Now, workers in key industries who haven't been working in person, as well as those in banks, construction, hospitality and other sectors, will be eligible for shots next Wednesday, rather than April 7. Also, anyone else 16 or older who wants to be vaccinated will be eligible on April 7.

Cooper warned that the state likely won't have enough vaccine supply on April 7 to meet the expanded demand, but he was confident that problem would be resolved in the coming weeks.

"The vaccine is our path to recovery. It is our road to normalcy," he said. "We're close to getting where we want to be."

Nearly 4.3 million vaccinations have been administered statewide since mid-December, according to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Nineteen percent of adults are fully vaccinated, and another 13 percent have had one dose of a two-shot regimen.

"I think it’s going to make a lot of people happy," Durham resident Lisa Gardner said of North Carolina's accelerated schedule. "I look forward to going back to the Y and maybe swimming, but still I expect to wear a mask for a long time."

"I think it’s wonderful that everybody will be eligible. It’ll be safer for all of us," agreed Durham resident Carol Hamlin. "I’ll feel much safer getting together to have a barbecue with friends on the Fourth of July, for example."

University students also will be eligible for shots next week, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz couldn't wait to share the news.

"We will begin vaccinating eligible students at our on-campus vaccination center starting March 31 – so next week. It was moved up from April 7 to next week, so this is really encouraging news," Guskiewicz told the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees on Thursday morning.

The UNC system will divvy up 20,000 vaccine doss among its 16 university campuses, and Guskiewicz said UNC-Chapel Hill will get 2,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for its clinic.

“We have been encouraging everyone in our campus community to receive the vaccine as soon as they are eligible. This is a critical step in ending the pandemic and returning to normal campus operations as soon as possible," Guskiewicz added.

"I think it’s definitely a positive step when it comes to campus life, college life," UNC-Chapel Hill student Greear Webb said. "We’ll hopefully be able to return to campus in larger numbers in the fall."

"Everyone here is wanting to get vaccinated," said Duke University student Navya Belavadi, who helped start a service that provides rides to vaccination appointments for students.

"My goal is to try to get as much of Duke vaccinated as quickly as possible," Belavadi said. "I feel like I’ll be more comfortable hanging out with people, because right now, I’ve just isolated myself mostly."

With 16- and 17-year-olds also eligible for the vaccine, parents of some high school students also welcomed the new April 7 timeline.

"It makes me feel good because they want to work this summer, and I want them to be able to work and contribute to the community and be healthy while doing it," said Kate Barron, of Durham.

Her son is 18, and her daughter will turn 16 in late April.

"The research and science says it helps to stop the [viral] spread, and it helps us all get back to life and not being concerned about making each other sick," Barron said.

But not all parents agree. Margie Riedel, who's also a teacher in Johnston County, said she won’t be signing her two sons up for shots come April 7.

"[It's] just because it’s so soon, and we don’t have the long-term studies on the vaccine," Riedel said. "Both of my children are healthy. They don’t have any pre-existing conditions, and their immune systems are very strong. So, at this point, we don’t see the need.”

Gina Walczak, the mother of a Durham high schooler, said she is "on the fence" about getting her 16-year-old daughter vaccinated.

"I have two friends that they are giving their kids the option if they want it or not," Walczak said.

President Joe Biden's administration has said it wants all adults to have access to vaccines by May 1, and state officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that North Carolina is on pace to meet that target.

Biden on Thursday upped his goal to have 200 million shots administered within his first 100 days in office. A week ago, the U.S. passed his initial 100 million-shot goal six weeks early.

Cooper signed an executive order Tuesday easing some pandemic-related restrictions as of 5 p.m. Friday, including allowing more people in a range of businesses, from restaurants and bars to gyms, movie theaters and retail shops.

But both he and DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Thursday that the state's accelerated vaccination timeline doesn't mean restrictions will be lifted any time soon.

"Give us time to protect each other," Cohen said, adding that there are large swaths of the state with low vaccination rates.

To that end, the state is launching the Healthier Together effort to focus on boosting vaccinations in "historically marginalized communities," she said.

"We see that, when we bring vaccine to folks and we really simplify the process – they know where to access it – folks are getting vaccinated," Cohen said. "But we know we have our work cut out for us to make sure we can vaccinate as many people here in North Carolina as possible."

Still, Adair Mueller said she's confident getting more people vaccinated sooner will mean more people eating indoors at her Durham Food Hall, which opened during the pandemic.

"It’s what we’ve been waiting on for over a year now," Mueller said, noting that the takeout business for the mix of eateries in the food hall is only about 10 percent of what they expected to have with in-person customers.

"We’ve just been really, really struggling – doggy paddling, trying to keep ourselves afloat," she said. "The fact that we would finally be able to have a critical mass of people in here would actually mean that we could survive, make it through and maybe even see a business that is profitable."

WRAL reporter Kirsten Gutiérrez contibuted to this report.

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