The Coronavirus Vaccine Is Coming to North Carolina. Here’s What We Know.

Pfizer headquarters in New York on Dec. 2, 2020. The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine is expected to be available in the coming weeks for some in North Carolina. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

By jenniferbringle

December 3, 2020

Where will you get it? How much will it cost? Who gets first dibs? And does this mean the pandemic is over? Cardinal & Pine has your answers here.

With the news that the first coronavirus vaccines could be approved and available within the month, many North Carolinians are wondering how and when they can get the vaccine, how much it will cost and whether or not it’s effective in preventing COVID-19.

This week, government officials such as Gov. Roy Cooper and NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, as well as health care experts at Duke, weighed in on all those issues, answering some of the most pressing questions about coronavirus vaccine distribution in North Carolina. 

Given the stakes—NC continues to set highs in hospitalizations and new cases in the days after the Thanksgiving holiday—the vaccine rollout will be crucial.

RELATED: ‘Their Inaction Might Actually Kill People’: Parents Thrash NC Lawmakers Over In-Person School Testing

Here’s what we know so far:

When will the vaccine be available in North Carolina?

Pharmaceutical manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna—which have both developed COVID vaccines—have applied for emergency FDA approval that will expedite the process and potentially make vaccines available by mid-December.

Will North Carolina receive both vaccines?

According to Cooper, North Carolina is slated to receive the Pfizer vaccine. That version requires ultra-cold storage, which is available at multiple health care facilities across the state. 

How many doses will be available?

Cooper said the first shipment of the vaccine will include 84,800 doses, and there will be additional allocations to come.

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Who will be vaccinated first?

The North Carolina Institute of Medicine convened an independent COVID advisory committee to help determine the protocols for vaccine distribution. According to their advice, vaccines will first be administered to health care workers at high risk of exposure to COVID, including those caring for patients and those sanitizing areas where COVID patients are treated. From there, high-risk health care workers and long-term care staff are prioritized, followed by high-risk members of the general population.

“We hope that by January, our health departments and community health centers will start vaccinating adults who are at high risk for complications, meaning they have two or more chronic conditions and are at higher risk of exposure,” said Cohen. 

How many doses will be necessary?

With the Pfizer vaccine, two doses are required, with the second administered 21 days after the first.

How effective are the vaccines?

According to Thomas N. Denny, chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have proved significantly more effective in trials than anticipated.

“Each of the vaccines have shown to have 95% efficacy in preventing infection or reducing severe disease,” he said. “If you do get infected, the vaccine immunity that’s been established will kick into overdrive to fight the virus.”

But Denny said that because of the abbreviated trial process necessary to produce the vaccines so quickly, there isn’t enough data available to determine whether the vaccines will work long-term.

“Until we get more markers of protection, we won’t know if you have to get boosted once a year or every five years—it could end up being a cocktail or piggybacking on the annual flu vaccine,” he said. “This is all a work in progress, and we need to get more data to truly understand how good these vaccines will be long-term.”

How much will the vaccines cost?

According to Cooper, North Carolinians will receive the vaccine free of charge, either through their medical insurance or with government assistance.

How will rural and underserved areas that may not have facilities for storing vaccines receive distribution?

Both governmental and health care officials have identified the need to assist rural communities in the state with additional equipment to facilitate vaccine storage and administration.

“Resource-challenged areas that have difficulties with refrigeration, storing samples and running laboratories where consistent power is important will have additional needs,” said Denny. “We’ll have to supplement those areas to provide cooling devices for storing the vaccine.”

Will the pandemic be over once people get vaccinated?

While the vaccine is a huge step in the direction of eradicating this disease, it’s not an overnight cure for the pandemic. With more than 80% of vaccine doses already purchased by rich countries like the United States, poorer and developing countries will not have the same access to vaccination.

And until there is widespread access to the vaccines, health experts strongly advocate maintaining prevention protocols like masking and social distancing. 

“We’re really not going to bring this pandemic under control until we control viral transmission everywhere,” said Dr. David Yamey, professor of the practice of global health and public policy at the Duke Global Health Institute and director of the Duke Center for Policy Impact in Global Health.

Additionally, Yamey and Denny said there must be a push to encourage people to get the vaccine, as some may be hesitant.

“We need ongoing vaccine ambassadors in every community,” said Denny. “It has to go down to every level in local communities—community leaders, church leaders, anyone who has status in a community needs to say this is safe and effective.”


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