Dr. Mandy Cohen

The State of North Carolina has nearly cleared its supply “backlog” of first-dose COVID-19 vaccine, N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen reported at a press conference this afternoon, and will have to strictly ration the 120,000 first doses it receives each week from the U.S. Government until its allotment is increased.

Dr. Cohen does not expect the State to receive more vaccine for at least the next two or three weeks, and when it does, the “bump up,” she said, is likely to be on the order of 10 or 20 percent more.

The Secretary declined to specify in response to a reporter’s question just what communications the NCDHHS has had with federal officials, saying only, “We are advocating for more vaccine.”

Only 84,000 of the State’s weekly 120,000 first doses will be distributed to local vaccine providers, such as the Dare County Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dr. Cohen said, according to a distribution plan based on county population.

The remaining 36,000 doses are being kept “in reserve” for “large-scale vaccination events”—such as those scheduled this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the Panthers’ Bank of America Stadium—and for distribution to communities where minorities historically have been under-served.  

As a result, about 300 COVID-19 vaccination appointments scheduled for this Friday in Dare County may have to be postponed because the State cut Dare’s vaccine allocation in half, according to a bulletin issued yesterday by Dr. Sheila Davies, Director of the DCDHHS.

When asked by a reporter how the NCDHHS decided “per capita” vaccine allocation, which varies considerably from county to county, Secretary Cohen made clear that she is not trying to achieve per capita equity.  

More of Friday’s 1,100 appointments in Dare would have had to be canceled if arrangements had not been made for a transfer of vaccine from the Outer Banks Hospital and an anticipated transfer from Onslow Hospital, Dr. Davies said in her bulletin, COVID-19 Update No. 78.

(Note: The story of Dare’s reduced vaccine allocation from the State and possible cancellation of appointments already has been widely reported. We refer you to the local media, including The Outer Banks Voice – ‘Beyond disappointing and hurtful’ and UPDATED: N.C. close to exhausting vaccine first doses, leaving upcoming Outer Banks clinics in limbo – OBX Today. Dr. Davies has expressed “frustration,” “dismay,” and a sense of injustice in communications with State health officials.)

As of midnight yesterday, Dr. Cohen said, North Carolina had “exhausted” 95 percent of its first-dose backlog by speeding up vaccine administration statewide. By tonight, she predicted, 100 percent of the backlog will have been eliminated.

This backlog has nothing to do with second doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. The State will always have sufficient second doses “on hand,” Dr. Cohen assured.

As The Beacon reported 1/21/21, North Carolina has lagged behind most of the other states in “getting vaccines in people’s arms,” which the new Biden Administration has pledged to do quickly. The State’s poor showing disadvantaged it in terms of its vaccine supply from the federal government. North Carolina had to prove that it was deserving of more vaccine.

Five days ago, North Carolina ranked only 43rd among the 50 states in the percentage of people vaccinated among its population, according to the COVID Data Tracker of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, its ranking is 25.

The State will receive its next federal shipment of 120,000 first doses tomorrow, Dr. Cohen said. Local vaccine providers typically have just a “48-hour window,” Dr. Cohen said, “on when vaccine will arrive.”

“Demand for vaccine,” she said in one of many understatements made at today’s briefing, “vastly exceeds supply.” Another was that “supply is incredibly limited.”

According to Dr. Davies’s bulletin, people whose Friday vaccination appointments have to be rescheduled will be contacted by DCDHHS. She asks that people “be patient and wait for a staff person to call you.”

Dr. Davies also said that DCDHHS could “vaccinate 2,000 to 4,000 people per week [if vaccine were] allocated to us.”

As of Jan. 24, DCDHHS had administered 4,588 first doses and 51 second doses of vaccine, according to its vaccine dashboard, which is updated every Sunday.

Ann G. Sjoerdsma, 1/26/21

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