RALEIGH — People across the state who had made appointments for COVID-19 vaccination shots found their appointments canceled after state health officials decided vaccines should be redistributed to “mass vaccination” sites.
“The governor understands people’s frustration, especially those who lost appointments, but the reality is that there is not enough vaccine currently in the state for all eligible people and the state will continue to work to balance speed and equity of distribution,” said a spokesperson from Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.
Cooper visited a mass vaccination site on Jan. 19 and in a press release issued the same day, noted that the state would be hosting large-scale community-vaccination events. The release said nothing about canceling appointments that had been already scheduled.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) says, on its YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov website, that the supply is limited and “very few vaccine doses are available.”
Atrium Health, Tepper Sports and Entertainment, Honeywell and the Charlotte Motor Speedway have formed a public-private partnership with the goal of distributing a million doses by July 4.
The first mass vaccination site was set up at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend. An estimated 15,000 to 16,000 people were expected to have sought vaccinations at that location.
During the dates of Jan. 29-31, another mass vaccination event will be held at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Organizers of that event hope to vaccinate around 30,000 people with their first doses. The Atrium website now lists that event status as “full,” and lists only one date, Feb. 26, for second dose deliveries at that same location.
The change in distribution is supposed to speed up vaccination efforts.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, 1,246,600 doses have been distributed but only 676,037 have been administered in North Carolina as of Jan. 25. The vaccination process, however, requires two doses. Of the doses administered, 589,436 North Carolinians have received their first dose, but only 86,064 have received the second one.
The mass vaccine events bring into question if the state is adhering to its own tiered vaccination plan. The vaccine website maintained by NCDHHS shows two of the five groups as actively being vaccinated. Those two groups are older adults, as well as healthcare workers, staff and residents of long-term care. Frontline essential workers, adults at high-risk for exposure and risk of severe illness, and the rest of the state’s citizens remain unvaccinated.
Officials in Greensboro and the Triad area expressed outrage last Friday when Cone Health suddenly canceled over 11,000 vaccination appointments for people signed up to get their first dose.
Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad fired off a public records request to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) over the shift to mass vaccination events. The request asks for all documents pertaining to the shifting of vaccinations to Charlotte Motor Speedway and Panther Stadium, including phone logs, texts and emails sent to or from NCDHHS employees and the hospital groups involved in the mass vaccination events.
Conrad said that his records request is looking for some transparency from the state and an explanation.
“Communication from the state has been non-existent on the plan. It’s been incoherent and certainly hasn’t been consistent,” Conrad told North State Journal.
The request also asks for similar documents from Cooper, NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen, Panthers Football owner David Tepper, Atrium Health’s Dr. Scott Rasmiller and Greg Walter, Charlotte Motor Speedway’s executive vice president and general manager.
Conrad says there was no warning from the state prior to the “last minute” cancelation of 11,000 scheduled appointments in Guilford County. He expressed frustration at the fact those canceled appointments were made through the system that the state had put into place.
“To all of the sudden have that rug pulled out from under them. It’s just a terrible situation,” said Conrad. He said that the way this happened is “patently unfair” and “extremely scary.”
“When does it become negligence on the state’s behalf?” Conrad asked.
Conrad said he does not have a problem with mass vaccination events, but that the state shouldn’t be canceling appointments already made. He said those appointments should have been honored first at a mass vaccination event instead of opening appointments to the public.
“Why in the world would you take new appointments over those already in the system? The state is not doing a very good job here,” said Conrad.