Special to Iredell Free News

RALEIGH — With cases of COVID-19 reaching record highs and hospitalizations increasing, Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday renewed his call for all North Carolinians to get vaccinated and get a booster as soon as they are eligible to protect themselves from severe illness from the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“For people who have been vaccinated and especially for those who have gotten boosters, the new Omicron variant has been less severe than previous surges,” Cooper said. “With these vaccines and boosters we have an amazing tool to save people’s lives and beat this pandemic – and we’ll keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting more shots and more boosters administered.”

Early studies show that boosters greatly increase someone’s immune response and provide greater protection against the Omicron variant than no vaccine. The booster is especially important for those over 65 or in other populations at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

The governor and new N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kody H. Kinsley also urged the use of well-fitting, multi-layer masks as another layer of protection against spread of the virus. If possible, wear a surgical or procedure mask, a KN95, or an N95. NCDHHS is making some higher-grade masks available for adults at no cost in more places that need them, such as long-term care facilities and federally qualified health centers, and for schools staff and populations like migrant farm workers which at higher risk of exposure or severe illness. These organizations and those that provide essential services can request these masks online at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/RequestMasks, and requests will be prioritized.

“Testing and wearing a mask are essential tools in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Kinsley said. “But the bottom line is that vaccines and boosters are the number one thing you can do to protect your health.”

Cooper also announced plans to extend Executive Order 224, which aims to curb COVID-19 by requiring vaccines or testing of state employees in cabinet agencies. That Order defined fully vaccinated as having two shots of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and directed the Office of State Human Resources to issue the policy to enforce this requirement. Under the new Order, OSHR will be given the authority to include boosters in the definition of fully vaccinated when appropriate.

To date, North Carolina has administered over 14.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 69 percent of the adult population fully vaccinated. About 74 percent of adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, including 95 percent of North Carolinians 65 and over. About 44 percent of eligible adults have received their booster shot.

Vaccines are available for those ages 5 and older, and boosters are available for those 16 and older.

On Monday the Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters for children 12 through 15 years old, but the CDC must take action before they are available. On Tuesday, the CDC accepted the FDA recommendation to shorten the time for a Pfizer booster to five months after the second shot. The CDC also recommended a third dose after 28 days for immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11.

Information on testing locations, free tests and home tests is available at ncdhhs.gov/gettested. North Carolinians can learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines at myspot.nc.gov (English) or Vacunate.nc.gov (Spanish). Use NCDHHS’ online tool Find a Vaccine Location to find a nearby vaccination site. The North Carolina Vaccine Help Center at 888-675-4567 can also help you make an appointment. It is open 7 a.m.–7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m.–4 p.m. on weekends.

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