What will happen with NC's first 85,800 COVID-19 vaccine doses? State leaders explain

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A U.S. government advisory panel endorsed widespread use of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine Thursday. Now the FDA needs to sign off.

North Carolina state health officials shared more information about their distribution plans.

"The initial supply of vaccines will go towards health care workers at significant risk of exposure to COVID-19. Those who are directly caring for or cleaning the areas used by patients with COVID-19. As more of the vaccine comes available, it will be distributed to more of the state's hospitals and then to our health departments," said NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen.

The state will receive 85,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the first week. All of the doses will be for the first injection, as the Pfizer vaccine regimen requires two shots taken three weeks apart. Eleven hospitals, including four in our area, will receive it first.

"These are going to be shipped in batches of at least 975 doses in a unit. So each location must be able to store this amount of vaccine in ultra-cold storage or keep the shipping container for up to 30 days and use those doses within 10-15 days without needing to refill the dry ice," said Dr. Cohen.

The FDA could grant an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine as soon as this weekend, which would lead to an immediate dispersal of the vaccine. States receive an amount of vaccine based on their respective populations.

Health care and long-term care workers will get the first doses, with long-term care residents in the following group. The federal government will handle the distribution system for long-term care residents.

"It will come out of our allocation, but it will be Walgreens and CVS that is actually doing the vaccination work. We are in close coordination with them as they do that work, and we have "turned on that program" for North Carolina. So as soon as we are able to have our allocation, we think it will come from our Week 2 allocation, that will begin the process," said Cohen.

While the first doses could be distributed later this month, Dr. Cohen says it will take months for it to be available to most of the public.

"We're talking about the limited supplies at first. So we don't really know yet what the time sequence is going to be in terms of us having a vaccine that is more widely available for the general public. It is not going to be in the early part of 2021 - let me just say that. I think it's going to be closer to the springtime before the vaccine is widely available across our state for everyone," said Dr. Cohen.

Because of that, doctors are stressing that mask-wearing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing will continue to be necessary for several months into 2021.

Dr. Cohen also dispelled a misconception about the vaccine.

"There is not COVID-19 virus in the actual vaccine themselves. The vaccine imitates the infection so that our body thinks a germ like the virus is attacking, and this creates the antibody defense we need to fight off COVID-19 if and when the real germ attacks," said Dr. Cohen.

She noted side effects include swelling at the injection site, tiredness, and feeling off for one to two days.

Later this month, the FDA will review the Moderna vaccine, which was made using the same format as the Pfizer vaccine. While both vaccines require two shots, the Moderna vaccine will require two shots four weeks apart.
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