Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen announced Tuesday that additional frontline essential workers in Group 3 will be eligible for vaccinations beginning March 3.
The expedited timeline follows the approval of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine and an expected increase in vaccine supply to North Carolina.
“The state and our providers continue to work extremely hard to get people vaccinated in a way that’s fast and fair,” Cooper said. “The third vaccine and improving vaccine supply will help us get more people vaccinated more quickly. Our essential frontline workers have remained on the job throughout this pandemic and I am grateful for their work.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine comes as the federal government has also increased vaccine in North Carolina beyond the state’s allocation. A new federally-supported site will open in Greensboro next week, and Walgreens is providing vaccine through the federal pharmacy program.
While there is still not enough vaccine for everyone, the improved supply has contributed to providers reporting readiness to expand access to additional Group 3 essential workers. Under the timeline outlined Tuesday, providers may move to vaccinating these individuals on March 3.
State officials continue to encourage providers to exhaust each week’s vaccine shipment before the following week’s shipment arrives. Some vaccine providers may not be ready to open to frontline essential workers on March 3 if they are still experiencing high demand for vaccines in Groups 1, 2, and 3.
Cooper also outlined an expected timeline for beginning Group 4 vaccinations. Beginning on March 24, people at higher risk from COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions will become eligible to receive a vaccine, as well as people in certain congregate-living settings.
“This is a really exciting moment,” said Secretary Cohen. “A third COVID-19 vaccine means North Carolina can get more people vaccinated sooner and keep people out of the hospital and prevent deaths from this pandemic.”
NCDHHS also shared clarifications for Groups 1 and 4. The definition of long-term care in Group 1 has been updated for people with intellectual and developmental disability. Higher-risk medical conditions for Group 4 include intellectual and developmental disabilities including Down Syndrome, and neurologic conditions, such as dementia.
Cooper will continue to advocate to increase vaccine supply in North Carolina. Since January 20, the amount of vaccine received by the state has increased by 135 percent.
This week, the federal government authorized the distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine and more than 80,000 doses are expected to arrive in the state beginning on Wednesday.
On March 10, a federally-supported community vaccination center will open in Greensboro. This site -– one of just 18 sites nationally — will help the state continue its effort to reach more marginalized and underserved communities.
The federal government will provide the center’s vaccine supply, which will be in addition to North Carolina’s weekly allotment from the Centers for Disease Control. It will operate seven days a week with the capacity to provide up to 3,000 vaccinations per day, with options for drive-thru service in the parking lot and walk-in service.
State officials continue to prioritize speed and equity in vaccine distribution as eligibility prioritization expands. On February 26, the Kaiser Family Foundation ranked North Carolina as first in the nation for vaccinating the largest share of its 65 and older population.