Federal guidance give providers leeway to turn away out-of-state COVID-19 vaccine seekers

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- While vaccines are allocated to states by the federal government, new guidance is giving providers leeway in restricting who can access them.

The guidelines allow providers to reject out-of-state residents who do not work or spend a significant amount of time in the state, curbing concerns about "vaccine tourism."

"We're also of course working with our providers to encourage them to schedule folks that are from North Carolina to partner with local churches, or other community-based organizations to make sure those individuals in North Carolina are getting their vaccines here in North Carolina," said Kody Kinsley, the NCDHHS Deputy Secretary for Behavioral Health & Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Earlier this month, NCDHHS said about 2.7% of the first 1.1 million doses administered in the state, equaling nearly 30,000 shots, went to non-residents. However, it's not uncommon, especially in border counties, for people to work or seek medical care in North Carolina but live in other states.

As the state prepares to begin providing vaccinations for educational staffers next week, it is also working to address concerns about "line-jumping," meaning people who are getting vaccines though they do not fit within current priority requirements.

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"For those times where folks are egregiously or intentionally stepping out of the phase, we want to learn about that and hopefully work with those providers to get them back into compliance to do the right thing that we are doing for North Carolinians, and then we will take into account their allocations if we need to if they continue to step out of phase unnecessarily," said Kinsley.

NCDHHS told ABC11 that during the week of Feb. 2, it received five complaints on providers' administration of the vaccine. Those are under investigation. The complaints are largely related to vaccines going toward non-prioritized individuals.

However, there are instances where it is allowed for a person to get a vaccine even if they are not in an eligible priority group. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have cold-chain requirements and must be used within six hours of opening. If people do not show up for their appointments, or providers have extra doses that are about to go to waste, they will make an effort to exhaust the remaining vaccines.

"You've heard us say that there are times when if you're getting to the bottom of the vial and you can't find the person in that phase to get a vaccine, you need to try to have a waitlist or you need to call someone that could come in and get that vaccine," Kinsley said.

Vaccine eligibility for Phase 3 will begin Feb 24 for educators and March 10 for other essential workers.

NCDHHS sent the following policy regarding vaccinations and residency, based on updated guidelines provided by the CDC:

...to protect the health of North Carolinians and promote equity in vaccine distribution, people who spend significant time in North Carolina and are able to spread the virus in North Carolina should be vaccinated when and where they have access to vaccine. People who can be vaccinated in North Carolina and considered to spend significant time in North Carolina include, but are not limited to, persons who have a residence and/or live in North Carolina, work in North Carolina, or receive on-going health care in North Carolina. Jurisdictions should continue to not put restrictions on administering vaccinations based on North Carolina county of residence.

However, to promote the public health goals for North Carolina, it is permissible to not offer vaccine to temporary travelers who do not reside, work, or spend significant time in the North Carolina. This could include persons briefly passing or traveling through North Carolina or coming to North Carolina for the main purpose of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and then returning to another state.
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