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Health

NC Health Chief: 'I Asked Atrium To Follow Our Guidance' On COVID-19 Vaccines

Mandy Cohen 12-15 briefing
North Carolina Department of Public Safety

North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said she asked Charlotte-based hospital system Atrium Health to follow the state’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization plan. Last week, an Atrium spokesperson said the system was offering vaccination appointments to non-frontline workers after first offering them to patient-facing employees.

“I asked Atrium to follow our guidance and we had a very productive conversation,” Cohen, a physician, told reporters on Wednesday. “I know that they changed some of the internal work they were doing going forward.”

Atrium officials told the Charlotte Observer last week that as many as 97 employees had their vaccination appointments canceled.

Phase 1a of the state’s vaccine plan prioritizes health care staff members who work directly with COVID-19 patients and health care workers administering the vaccine as well as the staff and residents of long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

“What we’ve asked is that if hospitals have extra doses, to also be vaccinating community-based providers that may not be affiliated with them but are ... still working with COVID patients,” Cohen said.

Cohen also said the state could move into the next step of its multiphase vaccination plan as soon as early January. The state is currently in Phase 1a and will soon move into Phase 1b, making the vaccine available to anyone 75 years or older. Next will be those 50 years or older in specific groups, including health care workers who don’t work directly with COVID-19 patients and frontline essential workers like teachers, first responders and grocery store employees.

Cohen said there is still a limited supply of vaccine doses so it will take a while to get people in Phase 1b vaccinated.

“Think about how large a group that is -- folks who are over 75 and all of our frontline essential workers," Cohen said. "That’s more than a million folks and that is not the number of doses we have here."

As of Wednesday, at least 63,570 people in North Carolina have received their first vaccine doses, according to Health and Human Services. The majority of those people are white and non-Hispanic.

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