Cancer patients 'frustrated' as revamped state priorities kick them further down the COVID-19 vaccine wait list

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina leaders adjusted the state's vaccination priority list last month and a Zebulon mom says the move instantly caused anxiety for thousands of people, including herself.

Eligibility for cancer patients got pushed back. They went from Phase 2 to Phase 4, which is just before the general public.

Roughly 2.7 million people pushed ahead of people with chronic conditions, including cancer.

"I'm very frustrated," Rhonda Howell said.

ABC11 spoke with Howell hours after she returned home from the hospital.

There were complications from weekly chemotherapy and it landed her in the ER.

Howell is battling Stage 4 breast cancer, and it's been a long road. She's been in the struggle five years.

She now finds herself fighting one disease while fearing another.

"My ability to fight off any infection, including COVID, is lessened," Howell said.

She's angry that the state's vaccination plan doesn't follow CDC recommendations, which would allow cancer patients to get the shot sooner, and she sent a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper pleading for a reversal.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Association for Clinical Oncology have also sent a letter this week urging state leaders to prioritize patients with cancer in accordance with CDC guidelines.

The letter noted that there is, "compelling data that shows worse COVID-19 outcomes for people in active treatment for cancer."

Howell is worried she could face a similar fate as a dear friend.

"I had a friend who recently passed in Fayetteville from breast cancer. While she was on hospice, no one could come say goodbye because of COVID and she wasn't eligible for the vaccine to make that a non-issue," she said.

NCDHHS maintained that it is aligned with CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in terms of priority order and said in a statement: "The vaccine prioritization is designed to save lives and prevent spread while vaccine supplies are limited."

That's not an assuring response for Howell, whose 8-year-old son just went back to school.

"I was scared for him to go back for in-person. I was scared that he would bring it home to me," Howell said.
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