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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 Clears Way For People 65 And Older To Get COVID-19 Vaccines

DoroT Schenk

Updated Jan. 15, 10:28 a.m.

North Carolina officials say all health care workers and residents 65 and older can start getting vaccinated for COVID-19 under the state's revamped vaccine plan.

On Thursday, the state Department of Health and Human Services announced that providers who are able can start giving vaccines to those groups immediately.

“We didn’t want to hold anyone back at the state level,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state's health chief, said at a press conference Thursday.

The new move brings North Carolina in line with new guidelines from the federal government, announced earlier this week, which were designed to speed up vaccine rollout. North Carolina, like many other states, has lagged in getting the vaccine doses it receives into people’s arms.

As of Wednesday — the most recent day for which information is available — the state Health and Human Services department reported that at least 44,271 people had received both first and second vaccine doses. At least 238,344 had received the first dose.

DHHS has also redesigned its vaccine rollout plan, simplifying it into five groups: health care workers and long term care staff and residents, older adults, frontline essential workers, adults at high risk for exposure and increased risk for severe illness and then everyone who wants a vaccine.

North Carolina Vaccine Rollout Plan
North Carolina's updated vaccine rollout plan.

“We wanted to focus on simplicity and speed,” Cohen said. “We know that there’s been more confusion than there needs to be.”

Previously, the agency had divided the groups eligible for vaccination into phases and groups, beginning by vaccinating residents in Phase 1a, which included health care workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients and people who live or work in long-term care facilities like nursing homes, followed by the first group of Phase 1b — anyone 75 years and older.

The phases were implemented because of the vaccine's limited supply, which Cohen said on Thursday is still a problem.

“We have less vaccine in our state than the number of people that are eligible to get it at this moment," she said. "For those who are 65 years and older, you could get vaccine starting now but that doesn’t mean vaccine is available for you today or an appointment is available for you today.”

Meanwhile, a public-private partnership in the Charlotte area is shooting to vaccinate 1 million North Carolinians by July 4. The mass-vaccination initiative — which involves the state, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County governments teaming up with Honeywell, Atrium Health, Tepper Sports & Entertainment and Charlotte Motor Speedway — was announced Thursday morning. Bank of America Stadium and the speedway will both be used as sites for vaccination events.

Charlotte Motor Speedway will have a three-day COVID-19 vaccination event next weekend, according to county health director Gibbie Harris, and Bank of America Stadium will host a vaccination event at the end of January. Harris says the success of these events depends on the vaccine supply.

"We don’t want to have huge events when we’ve only got 400 doses of vaccine, obviously," she said. "So we need to make sure that the vaccine is readily available.”

Currently, Mecklenburg County only has enough vaccine doses and appointment availability for people 75 and older.

"We do know the eligibility is being expanded but we don’t have guarantee in a significance in supply so I think that goes back to what we said before of appreciating everybody’s patience as we move through these groups,” said Meg Sullivan, the county's medical director.

In the meantime, the virus continues to surge throughout the county, and many public facilities are closing in the wake of Harris' health directive issued Tuesday that said residents should utilize all-remote options for school and work when possible.

The county's aquatic center is closed, along with the skate park at Naomi Drenan Recreation Center. Reservations are suspended at athletic fields, and in-person payments at the tax collector office are temporarily suspended. Parks, nature preserves, and greenways will remain open. A complete list of reduced county services can be found at mecknc.gov.

As of Thursday morning, 3,990 North Carolinians were hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the state health department. Since the pandemic hit the state last March, at least 650,926 infections have been confirmed and at least 7,825 people have died from complications of the virus.

The state health department has a searchable list of local health agencies and hospitals administering the vaccine at yourspotyourshot.nc.gov.

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Updated: January 15, 2021 at 10:29 AM EST
This story was updated to include information from Mecklenburg County's coronavirus health briefing late Thursday afternoon.