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

450,000 North Carolinians Have Been Vaccinated For COVID-19, State Health Chief Says

COVID-19 vaccine
Travis Long/tlong@newsobserver.com
The News & Observer, via AP
Vivian Johnson, 94, of Littleton receives the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine at UNC's Friday Center in Chapel Hill Tuesday, Jan. 19 2021. UNC Hospitals hope to administer 2,500 first COVID-19 vaccine doses at the Friday Center by the end of this week.

CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina has vaccinated 450,000 people against COVID-19 as the state ramps up its vaccination efforts, the state’s top health official said Tuesday.

The comments by Dr. Mandy Cohen, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, came as she and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper toured one of the few mass vaccination sites in operation.

Cohen said state officials want to use up all the doses from the federal government as quickly as possible.

Cooper and Cohen visited UNC-Chapel Hill’s Friday Center as UNC plans to vaccinate 10,000 people at that and more than a dozen other locations across the state this week.

The state has lagged far behind other states in its vaccination rate. Cooper told reporters it is his administration’s top priority is to get people vaccinated “as quickly and as equitably as we possibly can.”

Cooper said that “one of the reasons ... North Carolina was a little slower than other states, (is) because the decision was made to give every single county doses the first time. And when you do that, to be equitable, there are going to be some who do not respond as well.”

The governor said that since the state opened up vaccination criteria to people ages 65 and older, it has been easy to get them vaccinated in a lot of communities, but very difficult in others.

“So we want to be making sure that communities of color and underserved communities and others know about this vaccine, and that they can also be part of this process,” Cooper said.

Cohen said they want to have access points all across the state, but that supplies are still limited.

Cooper said the state is making “significant” progress and North Carolinians will see an increase this week. Cohen said what’s needed now is to support local providers and move vaccine to operations that can scale up and take on more vaccinations. She said this week they are moving doses around to those locations that can get it out fastest.

The DHHS website says 344,456 people have received a first dose of a vaccine in North Carolina and 60,073 have received a second and final dose. The website says it is updated through noon Monday.

Cooper said until the state vaccinates enough people, preventive steps of wearing a mask, avoiding large groups of people and staying socially distant are still needed. North Carolina is under a statewide mask mandate and is in Phase 3 of restrictions, which limits capacity in businesses and gathering size.

Cooper tours vaccination site
Travis Long/tlong@newsobserver.com
The News & Observer, via AP
Gov. Roy Cooper tours a large-scale vaccination site at UNC's Friday Center in Chapel Hill on Tuesday. UNC Hospitals hope to administer 2,500 first COVID-19 vaccine doses at the Friday Center by the end of this week.

Getting The Vaccine

President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration is Wednesday. Cooper said that he has been in touch with the incoming Biden-Harris administration “quite a bit” in the past weeks. He hopes Congress will look favorably on a new COVID-19 relief package Biden has proposed that would provide money for vaccine distribution as well as aid for families, small businesses, and state and local governments.

Cooper and Cohen toured the vaccination clinic and talked with health care workers, pharmacists and patients. The center vaccinated patients by appointment only.

As patients entered the building, they were given a new mask and hand sanitizer before moving into socially distant lines marked by circle stickers on the floor. The lines moved relatively quickly through the waiting area, then into another room to receive the vaccine. People then waited in another room to make sure they didn’t have any allergic reaction and to make their follow up appointment.

Throughout the tour, which included the pharmacy, Cooper thanked workers, chatted with patients and told them “we’re almost there.” In the pharmacy, he told those preparing the vaccine to “think about how many lives you’ve saved.”

After changing eligibility criteria twice and following the changes at the federal level, the current North Carolina residents being vaccinated are frontline health care workers, people 75 and older, and where counties are ready, people 65 and older. UNC health care workers are being vaccinated at UNC hospitals, but the Friday Center targeted people ages 65 and older.

There are 16 more UNC vaccination clinics across the state, though the Friday Center is the largest, said UNC Health spokesperson Alan Wolf. Wolf said they expected to administer 850 vaccines at the Friday Center on Tuesday. Other sites are opening where they see demand and also to reach out to underserved populations if they are existing UNC Health patients or through outreach like churches, Wolf said.

After the UNC Friday Center opened last week as a mass vaccination site, appointments quickly filled. Among those who were vaccinated on Tuesday were Sherry and Dave Holmes, both 79, of Durham.

Sherry Holmes said they signed up online at UNC’s vaccine hub and heard about it through their Carolina Arbors community website. Carolina Arbors is a neighborhood for older adults.

Both Holmeses said they hardly felt anything getting their shot. They both received the Pfizer vaccine, and will return in 21 days for their follow-up dose.

Sherry Holmes said the state’s vaccine rollout was “a little confusing” in the beginning, but described the vaccination process at the UNC Friday Center as “smooth as silk. It’s just been so professional and perfectly organized, very easy. We feel pretty confident about the experience, the vaccine, and are hopeful.”

Dave Holmes said they’ve adjusted and lived with the restrictions, but it would be nice to just go to a restaurant, he said. Sherry Holmes has also missed the socialization and looks forward to being able to visit family, give hugs and travel once the pandemic is over.