Last week, Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is expecting nearly 85,000 doses in the first shipment of the vaccine, which requires extra cold storage.
"We're a big state with rural areas that stretch for hundreds of miles," he said. "Every person is important, and we'll work hard to overcome challenges that our geography presents."
At 148 pages long, North Carolina's Vaccination Plan is full of details that spell out how the distribution is going to work.
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The distribution will be broken down into four phases:
- Phase 1A: Healthcare workers and medical first responders who face a high risk of exposure to the virus. Staff in long-term care settings are also included in this priority group. (Est. population: 140K-161K people)
- Phase 1B: Residents in long-term care settings, people with two or more chronic illnesses, also known as comorbidities, who live inside and outside of congregate living settings such as jails, prisons, and migrant camps -- including residents of such locations who are over the age of 65, front line workers with two or more comorbidities, and staff in congregate living settings. (Est. population: 587K-790K people)
- Phase 2: All other residents in congregate living facilities, firefighters and police officers, food packaging, preparation, and processing workers, manufacturing workers, construction workers, transportation workers, some retail and grocery store workers, child care workers, adults with chronic conditions, people over the age of 65, and staff in K-12 schools and colleges/universities. (Est. population: 1.18M-1.57M people)
- Phase 3: Energy/telecom workers, water/waste/energy operators, all other retail workers, religious leaders and other membership associations, students in K-12 and colleges/universities (Est. population: 574K-767K people)
- Phase 4: Everyone else not identified in Phases 1-3 (Est. population: 3.6M-4M people)
Cooper said the state expects to get the Pfizer version of the vaccine, because "Pfizer was the first to see authorizations. So we think that is what would be available and approved first."
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NCDHHS said the sites that will get the first shipment include:
- Bladen Healthcare LLC (Bladen County Hospital)
- Caldwell Memorial Hospital
- CarolinaEast Medical Center
- Catawba Valley Medical Center
- Cumberland County Hospital System Inc (Cape Fear Valley Health System)
- Duke University Health System
- Henderson County Hospital Corporation (Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital)
- Hoke Healthcare LLC (Hoke Hospital)
- The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority (CMC Enterprise)
- University of North Carolina Shared Services Agreement
- Wake Forest Baptist Health
Officials said these facilities have the "greatest capacity for ultra-cold storage."
For both Cape Fear Valley Health and UNC Health Southeastern, the prospect of getting a hold of vaccines in the next few weeks is more than they could have expected at the start of the pandemic.
Jason Cox, the Vice President and Chief Operation Officer at UNC Health Southeastern in Lumberton, said Operation Warp Speed has been a major success.
"Here we are, on the cusp of getting a vaccine in record time," said Cox.
Similar sentiments were shared by Amanda Wright, the Executive Corporate Director of Pharmacy at CFVH.
"We can also continue, now, to start focusing on something that'll prevent people from getting it in the first place," said Wright.
However, for UNC Health Southeastern, a recent affiliate of UNC Health, they were not on the list of 11 facilities receiving the first shipment of Pfizer vaccines.
Cox said Robeson County has been hit hard this entire pandemic, seeing a COVID-19 positivity rate beyond 10 percent and 114 deaths in the county, according to the NCDHHS.
"We have hospitalizations here both in our intensive care unit and our med surg floor that are designated for COVID patients," Cox said.
UNC Health does not currently plan to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for our healthcare personnel but expects to strongly recommend that all co-workers and providers receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available.
"UNC Health appreciates all of the work NC DHHS is doing to ensure our frontline health workers get vaccines as quickly as possible. We're still waiting for more details from NCDHHS, including how many doses we will receive, timing, etc. As we await more information, our experts and leadership team are planning how the vaccine will be distributed among our hospitals, which health workers will get vaccinated first and more," UNC Health said in a statement. "UNC Health does not currently plan to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for our healthcare personnel. However, we expect to strongly recommend that all co-workers and providers receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available."
For Cape Fear Valley Health, NCDHHS approved a shipment of vaccines to the Cumberland, Bladen and Hoke County locations, giving their rural facilities an edge in the fight against the virus.
Hoke County, like Robeson County, is designated as a "critical" red county, meaning certain metrics exceed the desirable standard.
"Because they are a county that has seen a high spike in their COVID cases, it is important that we get to those health care workers," Wright said.
Wright says CFVH hopes to see that first shipment in by next week, while UNC Health Southeastern looks to be next in line.
Cox told ABC11 that the vaccine will give front line workers, who are willing to take it, the chance to have some peace of mind.
"I think they see, now, this potential light at the end of the tunnel," said Cox.
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