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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

NC Governor Visits Health Workers Getting COVID-19 Vaccine

Roy Cooper vaccine
Travis Long/tlong@newsobserver.com
The News & Observer
Secretary of the NC Department Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper, at left, watch as Dr. Aidin Ashoori, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from LPN Gerda Lambre at UNC Health in Chapel Hill on Thursday where frontline health care workers are among some of the first recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

CHAPEL HILL — Dr. Aidin Ashoori didn’t wince a bit as a needle was stuck in his upper left arm carrying a vaccine that Americans hope will help end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking on was Gov. Roy Cooper and the state Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mandy Cohen. They had come to the UNC Medical Center on Thursday to watch doctors, nurses and other front-line workers get inoculated against a virus that has killed more than 6,000 North Carolinians and strained hospitals across the state.

“You’re very brave, Doc,” the governor joked with Ashoori, a third-year resident in psychiatry who works with patients throughout the hospital, including those with COVID-19. Ashoori said after weeks and months of anticipation and the process of signing up, the prick of the needle went quickly.

“I was expecting it to be longer, because of all the buildup,” he replied to Cooper.

Celebrating A Milestone

Cohen and Cooper have been speaking to North Carolinians about the coronavirus since the pandemic started, trading places at the podium during weekly press conferences in the state Emergency Operations Center.

But Thursday was the first joint public appearance in months by the two people who have led the state’s response to COVID-19. They both said they wanted to celebrate a milestone in the fight against the coronavirus and to thank some of the people most involved in person.

“It’s actually, frankly, very emotional to see our front-line health care workers who have worked so hard for us all year, to see them being cared for and to have this tool for them,” Cohen said afterward. “I heard words like ‘hope’ and ‘honored’ to be able to get this very limited supply of vaccine that we have at this moment.”

The vaccine administered at UNC on Thursday was among the 85,800 doses North Carolina expects to get this week. UNC and 10 other hospitals with ultra-cold freezers received shipments of the vaccine on Monday and Tuesday, and another 42 hospitals were scheduled to get their first allotments Thursday.

The state has learned that next week it will receive about 61,000 additional doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized use of the Pfizer vaccine on an emergency basis late last week, and the first shipments arrived in the state Monday morning.

Travis Long/tlong@newsobserver.com
Pharmacy technician Cody Close prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at UNC Health in Chapel Hill on Thursday where frontline health care workers are among some of the first recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The FDA is expected to grant emergency use authorization for a second vaccine developed by Moderna by the end of this week. If that happens, Cooper says the state expects to receive 175,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week.

About half of that would go to residents and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and about half to hospitals and local health departments, Cohen said. The federal government is coordinating the distribution to nursing homes, she said.

To work, both vaccines need to be administered twice — 21 days apart for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna. State officials say all 85,800 doses received this week will be first doses and that they’ve been assured by the federal government that the second shots will arrive on time.

Patience Advised

The state’s plan for distributing the vaccine gives top priority to front-line hospital employees who work with and around COVID-19 patients, including doctors and nurses, but also translators, transport workers and custodial staff.

Cohen noted that less than half of the state’s medical hospitals were given any vaccine this week. She said if the Moderna vaccine is approved, the state hopes to provide some vaccine to all hospitals and public health departments next week.

“But it’s going to be limited,” she said. “We aren’t even going to be able to get to all of our front-line health care workers in this first week and even in the second week. So we just ask for folks’ patience as we work through this process.”

The vaccine arrives as North Carolina and the country are seeing a post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus cases. Another 5,786 cases were reported in the state Thursday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 457,660, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Just over 2,800 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 620 in intensive care units, according to the state.

Eighty-six more people have died of the disease, for a total of 6,065.

Cohen and Cooper both implored people to help prevent another holiday surge in COVID-19, by wearing face coverings around other people and avoiding large gatherings. The vaccines are great news, they said, but it will be months before there’s enough that everyone can get it.

“When you look in the eyes of these front-line health care workers and think about the fact that they put their lives on the line every day they step into duty, we owe it to them to do the simple things like wearing a mask and staying social distant and being responsible and smart about the way we act,” Cooper said. “We owe that to them. And I’m grateful today to be here to have gotten to say hello to some of them and to thank them for their work.”