Out-of-staters, looking for the shot, fuel 'vaccine tourism' in NC

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine appointment has become akin to a battle -- of patience and determination. People have spent hours waiting on phone. Tens of thousands of people are competing for a spot and this battle has spilled across state lines.

From Virginia, South Carolina or Tennessee, people are coming to North Carolina and successfully getting a vaccine.

It's all legal, but is it fair?

ABC11 reached out to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to see what, if anything, is being done to curb what's being called "vaccine tourism."

NCDHHS said the state does not own its allotment of vaccine from the federal government.

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"Federal law prohibits restricting access to the vaccine based on jurisdiction," the agency said. "Vaccines are a federal resource and as we know, this virus does not recognize county or state lines."

Dr. David Wohl, an Infectious Disease Expert for UNC Health, said viruses don't respect borders and therefore, we can't use that criteria to vaccinate people.

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"I don't care where you come from. I don't care if you have papers. I don't care if you have insurance. I don't care if you have a UNC number. If you are eligible for a vaccine, you should get vaccinated," he said.

Wohl doesn't blame people for traveling.

"There is scarcity of the vaccine that's perplexing and frustrating, and I share that frustration," he said.

The situation can offer opportunity for some NC residents. If you're not yet eligible here for the vaccine, you might be in another state and could go there for the shot.

For instance, a teacher whose school is getting ready to reopen under the new state recommendation may want that extra layer of protection a vaccine offers before returning to the classroom.

Teachers are not yet eligible for the shot in North Carolina.

However, as of Thursday, Education Week's research shows at least 24 states and the District of Columbia have some or all teachers eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

That means you too, could hit the road for a vaccine. However, it doesn't guarantee you will quickly secure an appointment.

"People are having to play these games where they're online, if they can get online, and click over and over again. People are downloading apps that can call phone numbers until someone picks up," Wohl said. "There are all these tricks, and I feel that's a shame. That should not be the way it is. We were promised millions and millions and millions of vaccines."

Gov. Roy Cooper said the state is trying to ease demand and going as fast as it can as it waits for more supply from the federal government.
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