Gov. Cooper witnesses UNC Health frontline workers get COVID-19 vaccine

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper and State Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen toured UNC Medical Center on Thursday where 350 frontline healthcare workers were receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

"We know this day has been a long time coming," Cooper said outside of the hospital in Chapel Hill. "We also know that a lot of people in North Carolina -- scientists, health experts, researchers have played a role in research on coronaviruses for years. A foundation has been built over the years on the backs of these scientists and researchers. And the advancements in science and technology have made this day possible."

Cohen said witnessing the first phase of vaccinations was emotional.

"I heard words like 'hope' and 'honored' to be able to get this very limited supply of vaccine that we have at this moment," Cohen said.

Cooper said it's up to all North Carolinians to help protect those on the frontlines, most at-risk.

"We owe it to them to do the simple things like wearing a mask and staying socially distant and being responsible and smart about the way we act, we owe that to them," Cooper said.

In a statement to ABC11 on Thursday, UNC Health said there were minor issues causing confusion about the vaccine rollout among its employees.

Included in its roster of Phase 1A individuals from UNC Medical Center and UNC School of Medicine that was sent to the state's COVID-19 Management System, a spokesperson said, were names of employees who do not qualify for the first phase of inoculations.

"In response, we put in place several steps in our pre-screening and scheduling processes to prevent these individuals from scheduling a vaccine appointment at this time," the statement read.

Also, while those included in Phase 1A must present their email notification from the state before getting vaccinated, UNC Health said only a portion of its eligible 1A recipients have received that email.

"This delay is causing angst among our frontline workers who are eager to get vaccinated once they receive the state's email," the statement read. "Experts from the state and UNC Health are working to fix those problems."

Full statement from UNC Health:

The UNC Medical Center vaccination teams are focused on giving out hundreds of doses a day to the highest-risk frontline medical staff. They have more than 350 people scheduled today, with plans to continue adding more per day soon.

As they schedule vaccinations, they are considering eligibility criteria for Phase 1A with the recognition that there are coworkers from many different roles who physically work in COVID units, including custodians, dietitians, nurses, physicians and others.

Demand is high, and we're asking for patience as we work to schedule appointments as quickly as possible.

There are some minor issues that are causing confusion:

We submitted the roster of Phase 1A individuals from UNC Medical Center and UNC School of Medicine to the state's COVID-19 Management System (CVMS) on Friday evening as requested as a set of files. One of these files included names of co-workers who do not qualify for 1A. In response, we put in place several steps in our pre-screening and scheduling processes to prevent these individuals from scheduling a vaccine appointment at this time.

We are committed to offering a vaccine to all co-workers but will first vaccinate all of our healthcare personnel in any role working with COVID patients or at high risk of contact with COVID.

In addition, while the state is working as quickly as it can to upload UNC Health's and many other systems 1A lists, only a portion of the 1A eligible recipients have received the required notification from the state that would allow us to vaccinate them. This delay is causing angst among our frontline workers who are eager to get vaccinated once they receive the state's email. Experts from the state and UNC Health are working to fix those problems.

Our teams are working tirelessly to set up the infrastructure to vaccinate all of our 1A workers. We gave our first vaccine Tuesday and continue to increase the number of co-workers receiving vaccine each day. It will take several weeks to reach all of our 1A co-workers.
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