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With help from National Guard, private docs, vaccine distribution can be sped up

Posted January 6, 2021 6:17 p.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2021 7:31 p.m. EST

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine into people's arms has proven to be a big stumbling block in North Carolina. Help is on the way, though, from many sources.

The North Carolina National Guard has mobilized 50 members to help administer the vaccine and to help input data into the state's COVID-19 tracking system.

"We increase our number of guardsmen on duty to help North Carolina get needles into arms with the immunization for those that are willing to take the vaccines," said Brig. Gen. Jeff Copeland.

Dr. Mark McClennan, a former FDA commissioner who now is the director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, called the vaccination effort the most complex undertaking ever in United States public health history. He said the slowdown comes from a lack of manpower at the local level.

"One of the big restraints is just bandwidth," he said. "Hospitals just don’t have a lot of staff they can devote to expansive vaccination programs. So the more we can augment them, the better.”

Julie Swann, head of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State University, said she sees a lot of ways to make improvements. She was involved in the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine more than a decade ago and says lack of funding and planning top the list as reasons for problems.

Swann suggests that county health departments plan now and learn from the mistakes that have slowed the early vaccine distribution.

"I am confident that we will see the vaccine rollout faster, especially as state and local health departments are able to go beyond those initial priority groups and then send in the vaccine to more sites," she said.

She likened the slow start to the problems seen in the spring with coronavirus testing. At first, the resources were scarce and hard to access. Now, there are many tests and testing sites available. Swann said she believes the vaccination process will also improve as local leaders learn more about the best way to make it happen.

Private doctors may also be available to help.

"Pediatricians give out tens of thousands of vaccines a year. We know how to do this. We have a process in place," said Dr. Brian Bowman of Apex.

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