North Carolina will begin vaccinations for Priority Group 5 Wednesday, allowing everybody 16 years and older to get their shots.
It comes as the state received its highest number of weekly vaccinations, the fifth straight week of increasing supply.
"We do know at some point we're going to hit that peak of supply exceeding demand, and we need to push up the demand until we can get as many people vaccinated as possible," said Governor Roy Cooper during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
This week, the state will receive 602,990 vaccine doses, highlighted by 149,800 Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines, also a new high. Pfizer is the only vaccine authorized for people younger than 18 years old.
Through Monday, 25.7% of adults in North Carolina are fully vaccinated and an additional 12.7% of adults are partially vaccinated. For statistical purposes, NCDHHS classifies adults as 18 years and older.
"As we look at the population now that is more vaccinated now in the older generation, we really need to focus now on the younger generation to ensure that as a country and as a society, we're all protected," said Dr. Martha Perry, the Medical Director of UNC Children's Primary Care Clinic and UNC Adolescent Specialty Clinic.
Dr. Perry and her colleagues have treated COVID-19 patients during the pandemic.
"Increasingly we're seeing kids that have what we call 'long COVID'. So they might not have the acute respiratory issues, pneumonia, but they might have a prolonged period of severe fatigue, headaches, really inability to function that can go on for weeks or even months. So it can really impair that function, and that is serious when you think about the developing brain," said Dr. Perry.
More than 2/3 of people at least partially vaccinated in North Carolina are 50 years and older, and reaching a younger demographic will be key to achieving herd immunity.
"(This generation) cares about freedoms, and they care about equality and equity. And sometimes talking to them along those lines can be very helpful in recognizing that in getting the vaccine, they're doing their part," said Dr. Perry.
Dr. Perry believes in-person instruction, with safety protocols, is generally low-risk, but did express greater concern for out-of-class socialization.
"When you have particularly college students cramped in bars and restaurants without masks on, that's where we worry a lot more about there being spread. And what we know is that some of those individuals can be infected to a degree than can result in a loss of life," said Dr. Perry.
On top of that, she notes younger people can mingle with older or higher-risk family members, friends, and colleagues which can contribute to potential spread.