Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File/Treatment by Rebecca Russ)
Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File/Treatment by Rebecca Russ)

Here’s what you need to know about where and when vaccinations are happening in NC.

The two vaccines for COVID-19 are slowly getting into the arms of North Carolinians, as COVID-19 cases continue to spike during the most dangerous stage of the pandemic so far.

As of Tuesday, 173,928 people had gotten their first dose of the vaccine, according to data compiled by the NC Department of Health and Human Services. Those have largely been health care workers who might have exposure to COVID-19 patients, those who work or live in long-term care settings such as nursing homes, and people over the age of 75.

“Vaccine supplies across the country are severely limited but the goal for us here is to distribute it as quickly as possible,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday at an afternoon news conference.  “People are working night and day to make that happen.”

Those numbers of vaccination should be happening at a much faster clip now, said Mandy Cohen, the NC Department of Health and Human Services, at a legislative hearing earlier in the day Tuesday.  Hospitals and county health departments are establishing their COVID-19 vaccination procedures, and the state is reaching out to find out what is going on in places where they may be vaccines sitting on a shelf.

“Our job at the state is to help those who may be struggling right now to speed up and go faster,” Cohen said.

Cardinal & Pine has some of the most pressing questions answered below, from who can get vaccines and how to get them, to explanations of why the state is lagging behind others.

When will I be eligible for a vaccination?

That depends on how old you are, what your job is, and whether you have any other medical conditions.

North Carolina is following this plan:

·  Phase 1a: Medical and health care workers directly dealing with COVID-19 patients; residents and staff at long-term care centers.

·  Phase 1b: Adults over age 75 and, after them, frontline essential workers including police, firefighters, grocery store employees, and educators.

·  Phase 2: Adults over age 65; those 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions; people in jails and prisons; and other essential workers.

·  Phase 3: High school students over 16; college and university students.

·  Phase 4: Everyone else.

Right now, many counties in the state, who are administering their own vaccination programs with assistance from the state, are on 1(b), focusing on those over the age of 75. 

[That could change again with the Trump Administration changing its recommendations Tuesday to prioritize those over 65 in order to make sure there are no unused vaccines.]

How do I sign up for a vaccine?

If you are eligible, you can look to see if the local health care systems nearby public health departments are offering vaccines.  You can find contact information for local health departments here to see if there are appointments available, or call the NC DHHS’ COVID-19 Hotline  at 1-877-490-6642. 

NC Health News also compiled information on when and where vaccinations are happening in all 100 NC counties. Click here for that information.

Remember, vaccine supplies are still limited and there may not be available appointments, even if you are eligible.  

Can I get a vaccine outside my county?

Yes. Eligibility at this point is based on age, not residency.  

Is the vaccine safe?

Though COVID-19 is new, scientists have been studying coronaviruses, the family of viruses COVID belongs to, for years. Both Pfizer and Moderna conducted large clinical trials of thousands of participants for their vaccines, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) looked closely at the data showing very few significant side effects.  The F.D.A. approved both vaccines. Some people have reported having sore arms, headaches, fatigue, and a fever of short duration after being vaccinated, according to the CDC.  

The CDC has had some reports of people who have had significant allergic reactions to the vaccines, and is recommending that people who have had issues with prior vaccines talk with their health providers. They also suggest that people who get vaccines stay on site near medical professionals for 15 to 30 minutes after getting the shot in case there is an adverse reaction.

Why are older North Carolinians first up?

COVID-19 has been unpredictable in that there’s not a clear reason why some people who might be otherwise healthy face serious complications. But what is known is that those who are older, who often may have other health conditions, are more likely to die from the disease than younger adults.

In NC, those over 65 years old make up 15% of the total cases, but more than 80% of the deaths, Cohen said.

NC DHHS also released a video—“You Have a Spot, Take Your Shot”—showcasing several older North Carolinians , including many community leaders, talking about why they opted to get vaccinated.

Who is getting the vaccines so far in NC?

Demographic data is showing that most of the two-dose vaccines have been given to people who are largely white, non-Hispanic, women. (More than 80 percent of vaccines went to white North Carolinians, as of Tuesday). That’s despite COVID-19 having disproportionate effects on Black and Latino residents.

Part of the reason for the initial inequities in vaccine distribution is because of the state’s healthcare workforce, which is more likely to be white and female, Cohen said.

Cohen is aware of those inequities and said she is trying to bring those vaccination rates more in line with who is at risk moving forward. NC DHHS will be working with community health centers that serve lower-income and marginalized populations, among other strategies such as working with community partners and religious leaders. talking about vaccine safety. 

“The pandemic didn’t create the disparities, it just made them acutely visible for all to see,” Cohen said.

Why are so many other states doing better?

North Carolina is lagging behind many other states in inoculating people against COVID.

One reason is an initial decision by NC DHHS to get at least some vaccines available in each of NC’s 100 counties, a task that was logistically challenging. Now, state health officials are drilling into their data to see what counties and health departments essentially have vaccines sitting around and finding out how to get things moving faster.

“We all share that sense of urgency,” Cohen said.

For example, she found out that some vaccine administrators were holding on to doses because they weren’t sure they were going to get the needed second dose a few weeks later. Cohen said that’s not the case, that the state will make sure that secondary doses show up and are urging them to quickly offer up their supply to those older residents who are eligible.

One other big hold-up has been in the state’s long-term care facilities, which are having vaccinations offered by CVS and Walgreens. Less than 15% of the 165,900 vaccine doses meant for residents of these facilities have been used so far, according to a report from Carolina Public Press.

That’s in large part because staff and residents at the centers are hesitant because of lingering questions about vaccine safety or disinformation, Cohen said, something that she hopes changes.