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Group effort: Alston says both political parties rally to get more vaccine for Guilford County
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Group effort: Alston says both political parties rally to get more vaccine for Guilford County

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GREENSBORO — A week after officials were forced by the state to cancel 10,400 coronavirus vaccination appointments because the vaccine was sent elsewhere, Guilford County is getting a payback of sorts. 

State officials decided late Thursday to allocate 7,725 doses of coronavirus vaccine to Guilford County for the next week and another 3,000 to Cone Health for its vaccination program. 

In all, Guilford County officials will be able to administer more than 10,000 doses next week. 

Skip Alston, chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, said Friday that a letter he wrote to Gov. Roy Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's secretary of Health and Human Services, asking the state to provide the county with a minimum of 5,000 doses per week for the next three weeks plus an additional 5,000 doses immediately to help with the backlog, was one of several actions that brought the vaccine home for the county.

"I don't think it was one thing that tipped it one way or another," Alston said. "They made the decision late last night."

He said that every member of the region's legislative delegation as well as Mayor Nancy Vaughan and Commissioner Justin Conrad have made a bipartisan effort, making calls to state officials since last weekend, asking for a fair deal for Guilford, especially as the Charlotte metro area holds two mass vaccination events in two weeks. 

"That's all that team has been working on for the past week. Their collective voices is basically what did it," Alston said. A little divine intervention didn't hurt, he said. "It's got to be the will of God. He brought us together as a team in order to make things happen for Guilford County."

Alston said county officials thought they would be getting just under 2,000 doses. And while the windfall won't be coming every week, it will allow the county to begin catching up. 

He said the doses came from a variety of sources. About 900 doses came from an allocation the state directs toward minority populations for equity, he said, and 5,000 doses came from the amount the state uses in a discretionary pool that is used after the counties receive allocations by population.

Of the 7,725 doses the Guilford County Health Department got, the county will give 2,450 doses to Cone Health to add to its allocation of 3,000. 

Cone is calling people whose appointments were canceled last week to reschedule them to receive the new doses. 

Guilford County will open its own phone lines on Tuesday for people to schedule appointments for doses to be administered on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at three county sites.  

The number to call beginning Tuesday morning is 336-641-7944.

Alston said this week's allocation will be, for the foreseeable future, a peak that will level off beginning next week. He expects the state to be sending 2,850 doses for the following week.

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When asked whether Guilford's campaign resulted in the extra vaccines for the county, a state DHHS spokeswoman simply explained the allocation process. 

Christine Mackey said the goal is to provide an equitable distribution. 

"NCDHHS shared with vaccine providers a new two-part allocation process, composed of a 'baseline allocation' and a 'set-aside allocation,'" Mackey wrote in an email. "Baseline doses are allocated based on population data from the State Center for Health Statistics to provide vaccine to all 100 counties. Set aside doses prioritize geographic equity and ensuring access to vaccines for older North Carolinians and historically marginalized communities, while continuing to expect that all doses are used the same week." 

The effort to raise the county's numbers began last week. 

On Jan. 21, Cone Health officials were shocked to learn from the state that no doses of the vital medicine would be coming, forcing the health provider to cancel thousands of appointments scheduled for this week.

Around the same time, city and county officials were angry about a large-scale vaccination event scheduled at Charlotte Motor Speedway where 16,000 doses were to be administered. 

In his letter, Alston said the sudden drop in doses from the state had a "devastating impact to our supply chain."

He also strongly suggested that state officials hold the next "mega-vaccination site" in Guilford County rather than elsewhere in North Carolina.

This weekend another large-scale vaccination clinic returns to Charlotte — this time at Bank of America Stadium — where 19,000 doses will be administered to people over 65.  

Alston wrote that Guilford County, because it's centrally located, is in an ideal location to serve the state.

"Guilford County has already established not one, but three mass-vaccination clinics with room to expand at both our Greensboro Coliseum and High Point Mall locations," Alston wrote. He added that the county is collaborating with local health organizations and has put a priority on vaccinating minority communities. 

"We stand ready and poised to be a long-term distribution portal for the vaccine on a much larger scale and look forward to working with the state to make this a reality." 

Alston reiterated his desire to hold a mass event in an interview Friday. 

"I'm excited about our relationship going forward with the state," he said. "They see us, they hear us, and I think they will allow us to help." 

Alston said that in addition to state-planned mass vaccination events, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be looking for spots to hold events to accelerate the nationwide rollout of the vaccine under President Joe Biden. 

Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.

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