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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 Teachers, School Workers Eligible For COVID-19 Vaccine Later This Month

Atrium Health Nurse.jpg
Atrium Health
More people will soon be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina.

North Carolina is opening up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility for more people, including prekindergarten through 12th-grade teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial and child care center employees beginning Feb. 24.

“Starting with a smaller number of Group 3 frontline essential workers helps providers streamline vaccine distribution effectively and efficiently,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday, adding that this first segment of Group 3 includes an estimated 240,000 people.

North Carolina is currently vaccinating people in the first two groups of its five-group vaccine plan: health care workers, people ages 65 and older and those who live or work in long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

The plan announced Wednesday puts school personnel ahead of other essential workers in Group 3 like grocery store employees, police officers, farmworkers and restaurant employees. Those people will have to wait until March 10, when the state plans to make vaccines available to additional essential workers.

Cooper did not specify why school employees were given priority, though he did praise them for “going above and beyond” in the pandemic.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has said the state prioritizes people for vaccination based on how likely they are to be exposed to COVID-19 and how likely they are to become seriously ill with the disease caused by the coronavirus. But during Wednesday’s press conference, Cooper said teachers can safely return to in-person school without getting vaccinated.

“You can safely have students in the classroom as long as the safety and health protocols are followed--even without vaccinations right now,” he said.

Cooper said that the state will not require people to provide identification that proves they are essential workers before scheduling an appointment, but he said that requirement may vary based on the vaccine provider.

“Obviously, you’re going to rely somewhat on people’s honesty,” Cooper said.

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said the agency will have an online portal that allows employers to pre-register their employees for COVID-19 vaccines. Cohen said that could help prevent people who aren’t eligible from scheduling appointments.

“We are asking folks to really abide by these prioritizations," Cohen said. "Everyone will get a shot. But we have to use these prioritizations given the low supply that we have.”

With just 150,000 doses allocated to the state each week, people who are eligible may not be able to schedule an appointment right away, Cohen said.

In Mecklenburg County, Health Director Gibbie Harris lamented having to prioritize one sub-group of essential workers over another.

“They are all important," Harris said on Wednesday. "They have all been providing a service in the community, many of them since March."

The county also doesn’t plan to check identification for COVID-19 vaccines, according to Harris.

“We can spend our time getting the vaccine out as quickly as we can,” she said. “Or we can spend all of our time policing this.”

Harris added that county employees have questioned people in the past as to whether they are eligible for the vaccine, and will likely continue to do so. She said her staff is “pretty good at recognizing when someone is skirting the issue” and does not hesitate to question more closely if they think someone is ineligible.

On Tuesday, Cohen said the state has vaccinated about half of those in Group 2 ages 65 and older. Officials on Wednesday emphasized that the state will continue to vaccinate those in the first two groups even as it moves into Group 3.

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