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

COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expanded In Both North And South Carolina

Tori Martin, clinical nurse educator, administers Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccines to physicians, nurses and leadership at the Novant Health Prince William Medical Center in December 2020.
John Boal/John Boal Photography
Courtesy Novant Health
Tori Martin, clinical nurse educator, administers Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccines to physicians, nurses and leadership at the Novant Health Prince William Medical Center in December 2020.

Updated Tues., March 2 at 3:13 p.m.

The COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available to more people in both North and South Carolina as the states are expanding eligibility for the shots over the course of the next week.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced that all frontline essential workers in North Carolina are eligible for vaccination appointments beginning on Wednesday—one week earlier than their previous eligibility date, March 10. Cooper and state health officials cited increased vaccine supply in the state, particularly after Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine received federal approval over the weekend.

"We were hearing more and more from a number of providers that they were ready to go to this category," Cooper said during a press conference on Tuesday.

Group 3 of North Carolina’s vaccine plan includes, among others, grocery store workers, police officers, firefighters and restaurant workers. Teachers and school staff, also considered frontline essential workers in Group 3, were eligible starting Feb. 24.

"Our frontline essential workers have been at their jobs throughout this pandemic, making sure we could buy food, keeping us safe and providing vital services that we all rely upon," said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state's health and human services secretary.

Cohen said North Carolina plans to move to the Group 4 of its vaccination plan on March 24, beginning with people with medical conditions like cancer, Down syndrome, high blood pressure and sickle cell disease. Group 4 also includes people experiencing homelessness and incarcerated people who have not yet been vaccinated.

Mecklenburg County officials said in a press conference Tuesday that grocery store workers and restaurant workers will be allowed for the first time to book vaccine appointments March 10 through March 31 beginning Thursday at 8:30 a.m. Groups 1 through 3 are eligible for shots through the county health department starting March 10.

Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County's Public Health Director, said appointments at Bojangles Coliseum, where the county health department has been operating its vaccine clinic, are booked through March 9.

"The challenge with the governor making decisions about when to open things up is that he has to look at the whole state," Harris said, adding that the county will move through the rest of Group 3 "as fast as we can."

Residents may be able to book appointments sooner through Atrium and Novant.

"Whatever group is eligible is eligible to book appointments through our scheduling platform when they become eligible," said Dr. Gary Little, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Atrium.

Appointments at Atrium's "standing sites" were booked through June, Little said, but pop-up vaccination events could offer additional slots. According to Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease physician with Novant Health, Novant moves patients appointments up as more vaccine becomes available.

Meanwhile, in Iredell County, residents will soon be able to book vaccine appointments online. The Iredell County Health Department announced on Monday that it is launching an online appointment system next week. Previously, the county only held walk-in clinics.

Eligibility is expanding in in South Carolina, as well, as more than half of the people living in the state can receive a shot beginning Monday.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced Tuesday that appointments can be made on March 8 for anyone 55 and up, those between 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions and frontline workers such as law enforcement, grocery store and day care workers.

Officials estimate that 2.7 million people will be newly eligible for the vaccine in the state with a population of about 5 million.

Teachers are also included among those eligible, and McMaster said the state has plans to open teacher vaccination clinics.

McMaster then went on in the press conference to urge lawmakers to pass legislation requiring the opening of schools five days a week.

“There are no more excuses or justifications for every one of our schools to not be open five days a week for face-to-face instruction,” he said. “The consequences of not doing that are immeasurable. Our schools must be open.”

South Carolina health officials say the next group cleared for the vaccine will be those 45 and older and essential workers. They will be able to make appointments starting April 12. And everyone else 16 and older will be eligible starting May 3.

More than 600,000 people in the state have already received at least their first dose of the vaccine. The vast majority of those belong to Phase 1A of the state's vaccine plan, which includes health care workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities and people 65 and older.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.
Catherine Welch is Assistant News Director at WFAE. She has led newsrooms at KUNC in Greely, CO, Rhode Island Public Radio in Providence, RI and WHQR in Wilmington, NC.