North Carolina works to speed up vaccine rollout so state can receive more

As the pace of vaccinations continue to face criticism, President-elect Joe Biden is pledging to ramp up the rollout, aiming for 100 million shots in his first 100 days.

According to the CDC, 31,161,075 vaccines were distributed as of 6 a.m. last Friday; with 10,595,866 people receiving one dose, and 1,610,524 people receiving both doses.

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In North Carolina, just over 280,000 people have received at least one one dose, a stat that includes those in long-term settings. Vaccinations at those facilities are being handled at the federal level.

"We know that we're going to have vaccine allotment allocated to North Carolina based on how well we use our vaccines. So the speed is the real issue at this point, so we can quickly move through priority groups and reach as many people as we can in North Carolina," said Dr. Leah Devlin, the Co-Chair of the North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee.

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The state, following recently released CDC guidance, has expanded vaccine eligibility to those 65 and older, a marked change from 75 and older. According to the 2019 US Census, there are just over 1 million North Carolinians between the ages of 65-74. As of Thursday, Jan. 14, 27% of vaccinations were of people 75 and older, but just 6% were of those between 65 and 74.

"The biggest concern, and I think goes back to the way Operation Warp Speed was planned, was they only looked at getting the vaccine to the states and then their job was done," said Dr. Robert Handfield, a supply chain management professor at NC State.

Vaccinations began during the beginning of the worst period of the pandemic in several states including North Carolina, which has seen record-breaking case counts, positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths over the past month.

"The states and the hospitals and long-term care facilities are overwhelmed by COVID. They're overwhelmed by the number of patients. And they don't have excess people to administer it, nor do they have space in some cases," explained Dr. Handfield.

The nature of the available vaccines have also presented logistical challenges.

Pfizer's version has specific cold-chain requirements, which are difficult for rural clinics to handle; thus far, the bulk of vaccine doses available to the general public in the state have been Pfizer's version.

"We're going to have to create partnerships with community organizations, whether it's Rotary or senior citizens centers, or Uber, or whomever. But we're going to have to be able to deal with that in some innovative ways," Dr. Devlin said.

She added that you do not need to work or live in a specific county to live there, providing more opportunities for people in smaller communities to receive the vaccine.

Additional staffing will likely be needed to handle the expected increase in vaccine interest and appointments.

"One thing that could happen or could help is there's a lot of people out there who are trained who are willing to come out and do the vaccine. So hopefully with the new funds that maybe the Biden administration is looking at pulling, they can start building infrastructure up and bringing in new people to administer it and getting going more quickly," said Dr. Handfield.

Both shots are multi-dose, which means mass scheduling to ensure people get the second dose on time and do not mix vaccines.

Last week, Johnson & Johnson announced their version, which is single-dose, showed promising results.
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