RALEIGH — Over the last week, North Carolina has climbed up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's rankings of states with the highest rate of COVID-19 vaccine delivery.
According to the CDC, 322,294 people in North Carolina have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since last Friday. That brings the total to 728,551 residents who have gotten at least one dose.
The sheer number of vaccinations shot North Carolina up the rankings from 40th in first doses administered per 100,000 residents last week to 12th on Friday. Where 3,874 of every 100,000 residents had received at least one dose last week, 6,946 had this week.
"North Carolina vaccine providers have done a phenomenal job serving the people of our state," Dr. Mandy Cohen, state health secretary, said in a news release touting the rankings.
"This is incredibly hard work, and they've shown that they are both up to the task and committed to partnering in new ways so that we vaccinate North Carolinians as fast as possible."
With a backlog of first doses mounting and the federal government threatening to shift allocation toward states that got shots into arms more quickly, North Carolina shifted its strategy two weeks ago. Where the first month of the vaccine effort had focused on sending doses across the state, the priority now became speed.
That included sending large quantities of vaccine to large-scale vaccination efforts like one scheduled for this weekend at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte while also urging providers to push out first doses as quickly as possible.
"We wanted to make certain that we got all of our first doses off the shelf, and the state had gotten a little behind on that, particularly when we were concerned that we might have our allocation cut which would be bad for everybody across the board," Gov. Roy Cooper said during a Thursday visit to Piedmont Health SeniorCare in Pittsboro.
The rush to get vaccines out caused frustration as providers with scaled-up distribution efforts and already scheduled appointments were caught off guard when they learned that much of the state's weekly allocation had been sent to the Bank of America effort. Having already worked through their backlog, some providers like Greensboro's Cone Health were forced to postpone vaccination appointments.
Future vaccine distribution
Supply still remains severely limited, but North Carolina will begin receiving additional doses next week, pushing the total the state gets each week from 127,500 doses to about 145,000.
In response to concerns from health departments and hospitals, state officials have agreed to use 90,000 of its doses to give providers a guaranteed supply of vaccine. That agreement will last for the next three weeks.
For instance, the Wake County Department of Public Health will receive at least 3,900 vaccine doses during each of the past week, while the Durham County Department of Public Health will receive at least 600 doses and the Orange County Health Department will receive at least 200 doses. Hospitals in each county will receive separate allocations with guaranteed minimums, as well.
Cohen has said that these doses will be divided among counties based on population and then further split based on providers' effectiveness at distribution.
Speeding up the distribution also exacerbated some concerns about the equity of the vaccine effort, both in terms of geography and race and ethnicity. Cooper said Thursday that the entire country needs to do better on equity, including North Carolina.
"Now that the state is at a point ... that we can get first doses off the shelf within the week, we need to really concentrate on the equity piece," Cooper said.
To that end, the remaining 55,000 doses for each of the next three weeks will be used to respond to those concerns.
Orange County, for instance, will receive an additional 400 doses next week, bringing its total to 600 doses.
Some of those doses will head to counties that have received fewer doses per population in previous weeks, while other doses will be sent to counties that have higher populations of people 65 and older or with a low income.