The addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the United States' arsenal of COVID vaccines—which so far includes one each from Pfizer and Moderna—could make vaccinating large amounts of people easier, once the supply is ready. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
The addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the United States' arsenal of COVID vaccines—which so far includes one each from Pfizer and Moderna—could make vaccinating large amounts of people easier, once the supply is ready. (Photo by Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

After thousands of vaccination appointments were canceled this week, NC DHHS pledges to distribute vaccines to all corners of the state.

North Carolina will again switch up how it distributes vaccines, now making sure that each of its 100 counties get a share of vaccines each week to offer to eligible residents.

“Going forward, we have committed that every county is going to get vaccines going forward,” NC Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen said Tuesday.

A guarantee to distribute vaccines to each county was announced by Cohen Tuesday after she and her department were criticized this week after providers canceled thousands of appointments this week when expected vaccine allotments failed to materialize. Cone Health in Greensboro alone canceled 10,400 appointments this week. 

READ MORE: Medical Providers Fume After State Officials Divert Thousands of Vaccine Shots

Providers had been instructed by Cohen’s office to clear their backlog of vaccine doses in order to show the federal government that the state was ready to get more shots into people’s arms. North Carolina has made health care workers and people over 65 eligible to receive the vaccine, but supply from the federal government has been extremely limited.

Moving forward, Cohen said, she expects North Carolina to get 120,000 new first-time doses of vaccine each week from the federal government. That number could grow, she said. 

County-level public health departments and hospital systems will get 70% of the doese, accounting for the area’s populations. The remaining doses will then be used by Cohen’s agency to balance out any inequities in distribution.

Lack of Transparency

The challenges facing NC, and Cohen’s office, go beyond how vaccines are distributed.

Other issues include a lack of transparency from Cohen’s office and changing directives to already overburdened county health department and hospitals systems, Steven Lawler, the president of the powerful hospital lobbying group the NC Healthcare Association, said in an interview with Cardinal & Pine.

Direct responsibility for the large-scale vaccination efforts falls on hospitals around the state, t but they have been in the dark about the state’s overall  strategy

“There’s a lack of planning and what we’re asking for is ‘Hey, work with us, the experts,’” Lawler said. “No one knows North Carolina’s communities better than the people that are saddled with the responsibility to care for them.”

NC DHHS is also requiring use of a cumbersome vaccination registration system, he said, that slows vaccine distribution to the public. .

 On Tuesday, Cohen acknowledged her department had not been transparent enough about its strategy. The state, she said, finds out each week how many doses it will get from the federal government and then has to quickly decide where in the state they  should go. Providers may then need to launch vaccine clinics with only a few days’ notice.

“First is us all getting on the same page about the timing and the cadence of when allocations are known, when shipments come and what is that pace that we need to keep up,” Cohen said. “That certainty, I think, is foundational for us to work with our partners to get that vaccine out.”

She also said she understands the frustration for people over 65 year old, who are eligible right now for what could be a life-saving vaccine, but are unable to find an appointment. 

“We know that it’s also very hard on North Carolinians,” Cohen said, in a Tuesday press briefing. “Demand for vaccines rapidly exceeds our limited supply.”

Race to Vaccinate NC

As of Tuesday, 630,774 people had received the first of the two-doses people need for either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to develop immunity against COVID-19. That’s a fraction of what needs to happen for the state of 10 million people to reach herd immunity, which scientists estimate is 70% of a population.

Cohen is hopeful that last week’s successful push to use up any backlog of vaccines will indicate to federal authorities that NC is ready to handle more.

“We are making our strongest statement to the federal government that we can take on more vaccines and we need more vaccine,” Cohen said.