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'Ripe for confusion': North Carolina lawmakers irritated over slow vaccine rollout
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'Ripe for confusion': North Carolina lawmakers irritated over slow vaccine rollout

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Barely a month into a mass vaccination campaign to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration unexpectedly shifted gears Tuesday to speed the delivery of shots. A slow start had triggered widespread concern from states and public health officials.

RALEIGH — Lawmakers said Tuesday in a meeting with North Carolina's top public health official that the state lacks organization and needs to give better instructions to counties on how to administer the coronavirus vaccine.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday ranked North Carolina as the 10th slowest state in the country per capita in administering doses. A fourth of the more than 820,000 doses distributed thus far have been administered, according to state data shared with the CDC.

Mandy Cohen, North Carolina's Secretary of Health, praised Iredell and Robeson counties for exhausting their supplies and not keeping any doses on the shelf but acknowledged others have unnecessarily reserved extra supply out of fear the federal government will fail to ship secondary doses.

North Carolina’s slow pace is not unusual. Other states are experiencing similar difficulties. Production will only continue to ramp up, with vaccines being more widely available by the late spring or early summer.

Still, a number of factors have contributed to North Carolina's rocky rollout. Cohen pointed to ever-changing federal guidance, for one. A CDC advisory panel urged states to give higher priority to adults 75 years or older just a week into vaccine distribution.

“I'm all for course corrections in the middle, but understand course corrections mean that we have to change what we're doing and it means the plans that were put in place do need to adjust," Cohen said. "We're going to incorporate new guidance as fast as we can and keep moving forward and continue with that sense of urgency of wanting to get vaccine out."

She also said the fact that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come in bundles of 975 and 100, respectively, has “hamstrung” the state's ability to more flexibly distribute the vaccine. The state has sent vaccines to all 100 counties, which improved regional access but added logistical hurdles.

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Navigating a new IT system has challenged some local health departments.

Also adding to the delays is hesitancy among nursing home workers to take the vaccine.

State Sen. Jim Burgin, a Harnett County Republican, worries counties and hospital systems have had to go it alone in creating scheduling systems. 

“You don't have one plan. I know we have to be flexible because this is a moving target, but I still see that this was ripe for confusion to begin with,” Burgin said.

Cohen said she didn't want to create “an additional layer of bureaucracy over an appointment system."

“It seems to me it shouldn’t be difficult to have a plan for how you adjust your distribution,” said state Rep. Hugh Blackwell or Burke County.

Some counties have been overwhelmed by calls coming into their public health departments to schedule appointments. Others lack an online sign-up portal. And a few have been forced to turn away people due to limited supply.

Lawmakers want the state to give more directions to local officials.

“It would be helpful to give some marching orders, even though they may not follow it, to some of the health departments so they have some sense of how to do this," said state Sen. Gladys Robinson, who represents Guilford County.


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