In this January 2021 file photo, a medical professional heads to the parking lot at Bojangles Arena in Charlotte to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to a patient in their vehicle. (Photo by Grant Baldwin for Courier Newsroom.) North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccination Site
In this January 2021 file photo, a medical professional heads to the parking lot at Bojangles Arena in Charlotte to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to a patient in their vehicle. (Photo by Grant Baldwin for Courier Newsroom.)

The state has reported a successful rollout of the vaccine thus far. But Cooper says we still need to convince some in NC to get on board. 

Vaccines are the road to recovery, Gov. Roy Cooper said on Thursday, and in two weeks the lanes will be wide open. 

On April 7, some 13 months after the pandemic brought the world to a halt, all North Carolinians age 16 and older will be eligible to get a vaccine, Cooper said.

The accelerated timeline is possible because of faster than expected success so far, increased supply, and partnerships with local groups that are driving access in historically marginalized communities, Cooper and state health officials said at a news conference announcing the move. 

“We’ve been faster and have gotten more supplies than we have anticipated,” Cooper said, “and that’s fantastic.”

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He thanked NC health officials and health providers across the state. 

He thanked you too.

“I’m also grateful to North Carolinians who are taking this seriously and getting the shot when it is their time,” he said. 

A third of the state’s population has at least one dose of the vaccine, Cooper said, and a fifth is fully vaccinated. 

“Vaccines are the key to moving forward,” he told reporters, “and I’m ready for that I’m sure you are too.”

But, before opening access fully, there is one more baby step. On March 31, the rest of Group 4 will be eligible, Cooper said. This includes people who work in real estate, retail, construction, sanitation, banks and other public areas. It also includes college students living in dorms and in Greek housing. You can find who is eligible in this group here.

While the vaccine numbers look good, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine continues to roll out alongside the Pfizer and Moderna versions, there is lots of work to do, Cooper said, and a serious pothole to avoid in the road to recovery.

“In the next couple of months we’ll have enough supply for everyone who wants a vaccine to get one. And when that happens each of us is going to have to talk with our friends and family who are hesitating about getting vaccinated and convince them to do it.”

In fact, part of the reason for opening vaccines to all adults is to drive up the numbers high enough to guard against any drop off in momentum from those North Carolinians hesitant or outright refusing to get a vaccine. 

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“There is some concern that we might have a large percentage of the population that is hesitant about it and may refuse,” Cooper said at the news conference. “We’re going to depend on doctors and ministers and family members and friends to push and cajole those who might be hesitant.” 

Cooper eased some more economic and capacity restrictions this week, but because of the potential for vaccine hesitancy, unpredictable variants of the virus, and remaining uncertainty about future vaccine supply, Mandy Cohen, NC’s top health official, said it is too soon to be able to give an exact number of vaccinations that would be needed to end all restrictions and mask mandates. 

So the message is: Almost there, but not there yet.

NC will also continue seeking to build upon its early success in reaching historically marginalized communities, Cooper said.

Officials have been working to set up sites in rural areas and working with religious leaders and other trusted community figures to drive education and access efforts. Toward that end, the state announced a major initiative called Healthier Together, a partnership with private and community groups to improve vaccine access for people of color, who have died, been sickened and lost their jobs in the pandemic at disproportionate rates. 

The partnership, Cohen said, would fund outreach and education efforts, coordinate local events at trusted locations in a community, help schedule appointments, provide transportation and onsite translation services, among others. 

The partnership, Cohen said, “will bring together the expertise and relationships of trusted community based organizations with the policy tools and resources of state government to create a new partnership model to address vaccine and other health equities.”

Here is what else you need to know:

  • While anyone 16 years of age or older will be eligible for vaccines, only one of the publicly available vaccines, Pfizer, has been approved for use in 16 and 17 year olds. So part of the plan to open access to everyone, Cohen said, will be to better communicate to the public which vaccines providers have at each location so that people with 16 and 17 year olds can help make the appointments. That might take some time.
  • Over 70% of people over 65 have at least one dose and more than 55% are fully vaccinated, Cohen said. “We see that when we bring the vaccine to folks and we really simplify the process and they know where to access it, folks are getting vaccinated.”
  • As effective as they are, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require special freezers to keep them viable. This has complicated efforts to make vaccines available at doctors offices.  But, with the continued rollout of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is only one shot and can be stored in a regular refrigerator,  Cooper said that more and more doctors should see an increased supply at their local offices. This will not only increase overall availability and access, he said, but will help persuade those hesitant to get the vaccine at all to move forward.