Fact check: Johnston County billboard slams Cooper over 'Type 1 diabetes'

Posted February 17, 2021 5:38 p.m. EST
Updated February 17, 2021 5:50 p.m. EST

\A billboard in Johnston County suggests North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is shortchanging people with type 1 diabetes.

A WRAL viewer emailed a photo of the billboard on U.S. Highway 301 to PolitiFact. It says:

“Gov Roy Cooper does not consider Type 1 diabetes an under lying health issue! Think about that!”

The billboard does not show who paid for it. Warren Stancil, the president of the billboard company, InterState Outdoor Inc., said he doesn’t know the buyer’s identity.

“This was an anonymous person who bought the ad space. All I know is what’s in the message,” Stancil said in an email. The ad went up around Jan. 22, he said.

Given the timing of the message in the midst of a vaccine rollout, we’re assuming for the purposes of this check that the messenger is likely referring to where diabetics fall in North Carolina’s inoculation schedule.

The billboard’s message touches on a controversial subject.

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not consider both types of diabetes to carry the same level of risk for COVID-19 complications. In North Carolina, meanwhile, the health department has grouped Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes together and people with either condition qualify for covid vaccines in Group 4, ahead of the general population.

Type 1 diabetes and COVID-19

The CDC’s webpage about how the virus affects people with medical conditions says people with Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk, while people with Type 1 diabetes “might” be at increased risk.

Under current CDC recommendations, people with Type 1 diabetes would be vaccinated with the general population.

Advocacy groups such as the American Diabetes Association and JDRF (formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) are lobbying the CDC to place higher priority on people with Type 1 diabetes.

A study published in December found that Type 1 diabetes “independently increases the adverse impacts of COVID-19,” while another study found that Black COVID-19 patients were more likely to develop a serious complication of Type 1 diabetes than white patients.

Still, JDRF spokeswoman Cynthia Rice said that, as a result of the CDC’s recommendations, “many states” haven’t prioritized people with Type 1 diabetes. So the American Diabetes Association has been contacting governors and state agencies across the country, spokeswoman Daisy Diaz told PolitiFact.

Type 1 diabetes and North Carolina

In North Carolina, the health department currently considers both types of diabetes to be “chronic conditions.” Where does that put diabetics in North Carolina’s vaccine rollout?

Let’s say someone has diabetes but isn’t over age 65, doesn’t work in an essential industry and doesn’t meet any other criteria for moving up North Carolina’s vaccine priority list.

That person would be in Group 4 of the state’s five groups:

Group 1: Healthcare workers, long-term care staff and residents

Group 2: Older adults

Group 3: Frontline essential workers

Group 4: Adults at increased risk of severe illness

Group 5: Everyone else

Asked about North Carolina’s plan, Rice said: “That is the policy we are seeking around the country, with Type 1 included with other disease that increase risk of severe illness from COVID.”

Possible confusion

While people with both types of diabetes are prioritized in North Carolina, old versions of the health department’s website may have given people the wrong impression.

Take for example the department’s FAQ page about COVID-19 vaccines. Under the “getting vaccinated” section, the department lists chronic conditions that make someone a higher priority for vaccination.

The page currently lists both types of diabetes as chronic conditions.

However, according to an internet archive, the page excluded Type 1 diabetes from its list of chronic conditions as recently as Feb. 12. The webpage quoted CDC guidance, mentioning only Type 2 diabetes as a chronic condition.

That exclusion may be why media outlets such as WTVD, WECT and others have mentioned only Type 2 diabetes when reporting on North Carolina’s rollout.

North Carolina has tried to follow most CDC recommendations, said SarahLewis Peel, a spokeswoman for the health department. However, Peel said, North Carolina has always intended to prioritize all diabetics for vaccines.

People with both types of diabetes have been prioritized together since the state released its guidance for Group 4 on Jan. 25, she said.

Our ruling

PolitiFact: False

The billboard says “Cooper does not consider Type 1 diabetes an (underlying) health issue!”

North Carolina’s vaccine rollout prioritizes people with type 1 diabetes ahead of the general population. So it’s clear that Cooper, to some degree, considers the disease to be an underlying health issue.

We rate this claim False.

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