The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) rolled out its updated COVID-19 vaccination plan Wednesday to adopt new federal guidelines for distribution.
Officials said the new plan simplifies the vaccine process but still prioritizes health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients and people who are at the highest risk for severe symptoms or exposure to COVID-19.
“While there is still much to do, we head into 2021 with a powerful tool to stop this pandemic: vaccines,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said Wednesday during a news briefing. “However, because supplies are very limited, it’s going to be several months before vaccines are widely available to everyone. Until most people are vaccinated, everyone needs to continue to wear a mask, wait 6 feet apart and wash their hands.”
North Carolina is administering its first phase of vaccines, dubbed Phase 1A, to health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices last week issued updated guidance that recommended 20 million people 75 years old and older and about 30 million “frontline essential workers” be next in line for vaccine distributions.
The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders, teachers, education support staff, corrections officers, child care workers, public transit workers, grocery store employees, food agriculture workers, manufacturing workers and U.S. postal workers.
Cohen said Wednesday that North Carolina would enter the next phase in early January, when health officials will offer vaccines to people 75 years old or older and frontline essential workers. Because of the limited supply of doses, the vaccines will be administered in groups, she said. Residents 75 years old or older, regardless of medical condition or living situation, will be vaccinated first, then health care and frontline essential workers who are 50 years old or older, followed by frontline workers and health care workers of any age.
Phase 2 of vaccinations would be set aside for adults at risk for exposure and severe illness. The priority groups start with older adults, between 65 years old to 74 years old, then 16- to 64-year-olds with medical conditions. They would be followed by incarcerated or people living in congregated settings that have not already received a dose in the other phases. Officials then would revert to essential workers who previously were missed.
The third administration phase would be reserved for students 16 years old and older, including those who attend college or a university. Any residents who are remaining will receive the vaccine in the fourth phase, Cohen said.
“But remember, with the limited supply of vaccines, we believe this could be well into the spring,” Cohen said.
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