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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 Aims To Speed Up Vaccine Rollout: 'Find The Closest Arm Of Who Wants To Get Vaccinated'

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Atrium Health
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North Carolina health Secretary Mandy Cohen says the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is speeding up, but getting most people vaccinated will still take several months.

Cohen says if health providers have any vaccine doses left over at the end of the week, "Keep a waitlist. Keep a waitlist where you can call someone last minute to come in that does fit those priority categories so you don’t ever have to waste it.

"But our guidance is also, if you even can’t find someone on that priority list, find the closest arm of who wants to get vaccinated and get that in because we as a state don’t want to waste any vaccine."

North Carolina has seen an unspecified number of doses scrapped. The state has not publicly shared the number of wasted doses due to a vaccine being stored too long in a freezer or not being administered in a timely manner once it has been taken out of a freezer. Cohen estimated the waste is “in the tens of doses.”

According to the most recent vaccination data released by the NC Department of Health and Human Services, 573,130 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the state — 424,274 of those are first doses. The remainder are second shots and total doses administered by the federal long-term care vaccination program.

The state is also sending out $2.5 million to transit agencies around North Carolina to help get people to their vaccine appointments.

“Lack of transportation shouldn’t be the reason someone doesn’t get their shot,” Cohen said at a news conference.

Asked about vaccine supply shortages from the federal government, Cohen said she wants the existing supply of first doses to dwindle, which would demonstrate that the state is more efficiently utilizing its resources. “That is our goal. To run out of vaccines every week before the next shipment comes, and that's what we have directed our local health departments and hospitals. Yes, we are running out of vaccines in all places.”

Cohen wants the 136 different vaccine providers in the state to develop waiting lists for residents 65 years or older who are currently eligible to get vaccinated. Some Charlotte-area residents cancelled existing vaccine appointments after earlier ones became available.

Meanwhile, Mecklenburg County’s Public Health Department says all its COVID-19 vaccination appointments are booked through the first three weeks of February. The county is vaccinating health care workers and people 65 and older.

Mecklenburg County health officials say they’ll open more appointments as vaccine supply increases. In the meantime, people who are 65 and older are encouraged to reach out to their primary care providers to discuss options.

Likewise, Gaston County is now opening vaccine appointments to residents between the ages of 65-74 through mid-February. Those who qualify can register here, and you will receive a follow-up email with a link to make an appointment as they are available. You can also call the COVID-19 registration hotline at 704-866-3170.

The county expects to vaccinate 1,200 residents at Friday's clinic at the Gastonia Farmer's Market. It has vaccinated more than 2,000 residents at clinics there in the last two weeks.

“We want everyone to know, that no matter what, if they want a shot, they will get a shot,” Public Health Director Steve Eaton said in a statement. “We are thrilled by the response of our senior residents and health care workers to get vaccinated, and we’re going to continue doing everything in our power to make sure we’re getting shots to those who qualify for them as quickly and as safely as we can.”

The state health department is working to address concerns that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not adequately representing the state's vaccine progress on a website where it releases vaccine data. The CDC data on Wednesday ranked North Carolina as the 11th slowest state in the country in administering doses per capita and underrepresented the number of doses North Carolina has administered to date by about 150,000.

Cohen urged people to look at the state’s dashboard for the latest numbers, rather than the CDC.

“Many of those rankings and charts are out of date,” Cohen said. “We’ve actually already flagged for the CDC to understand what the data lag and data discrepancy is between what we’re seeing here in North Carolina and the data we do submit to them every night to make sure that we can line that up a bit better.”

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