State COVID-19 vaccination rate lags behind all but 9 other states

NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen watches as Gov. Roy Cooper during a press conference at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, NC Thursday, Dec. 7, 2020 where frontline healthcare workers are among some of the first recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Pool photo

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign is off to a less than stellar start, according to information reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says the state has received 498,450 doses of vaccine and has initiated vaccinations for 121,881 people as of Jan. 4. That equals a vaccination rate of 1,162 per 100,000 people. The rate places the state in the bottom fifth of rates per 100,000, along with Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Michigan, Mississippi and Wisconsin.

The state with the highest rate is South Dakota, which has vaccinated 3,231 people per 100,000.

Over 4.8 million nationwide have received the first dose of vaccine as of data uploaded on Jan. 5.

Healthcare providers report doses to federal, state, territorial and local agencies up to 72 hours after administration, the CDC says. The state’s dashboard says data will be updated only once per week, which was last done on Jan. 5.

In mid-December, NCDHHS unveiled a four-phase rollout for the vaccine.

The first phase, which is broken into two parts, starts with Phase 1A, vaccinating all health care workers at high risk for exposure to COVID-19 and long-term care staff and residents.

Phase 1B has already been modified by NCDHHS. Originally, Phase 1B included adults who have at least two chronic health conditions that put them at risk for COVID-19. Examples of such conditions are cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes. It also included essential adult workers who are at a high risk of exposure such as first responders, police, prison staff, food processing and teachers.

The state on Dec. 30 added all adults over the age of 75 to Phase 1B. NCDHHS said the change was in accordance with updated federal guidelines.

“While there is still much to do, we head into 2021 with a powerful tool to stop this pandemic — vaccines,” said NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen. “However, because supplies are very limited, it’s going to be several months before vaccines are widely available to everyone.”

Phase 1B is further broken down into three groups. Group 1 includes persons 75 years and older. Group 2 includes any patient-facing direct health care workers not vaccinated in Phase 1A and essential frontline workers over age 50. Group 3 includes all other patient-facing direct health care workers not vaccinated in Phase 1A.

Other states, such as Florida, began with prioritization in long-term care facilities, seniors and health care personnel with direct patient contact. In that state, 13% of the state’s vaccine doses have gone to seniors over the age of 65.

“Florida is putting seniors first and I’m pleased to announce four new actions that will continue our proactive approach to offering the vaccine to Floridians 65 and older, as well our continued efforts to vaccinate frontline health care workers and long-term care facility residents,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a Jan. 4 statement. “Our top priority is residents of long-term care facilities. They are at the greatest risk and this vaccine could have a positive impact on them, not just protecting them from COVID, but allowing them to return to a more normal life,” DeSantis added.

Florida’s emphasis on seniors aligns with risk factors identified by state and federal officials for COVID-19 infection.

“People who are over the age of 65 and people of any age who have certain underlying health conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19,” NCDHHS’s weekly surveillance report states.

NCDHHS data uploaded on Jan. 5 shows that 88% of doses went to adults between the ages of 25 and 64. The data also does not differentiate between those given to health care workers and long-term care facilities’ residents and staff.

An estimated 51.1% of adults in NC are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 based on being 65 or older, having at least one of the underlying health conditions, or both, NDHHS’s weekly risk factor report says.

With vaccine issues mounting, Cooper on Tuesday afternoon announced he would call in the National Guard to provide support to local health providers.

“Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are administered quickly is our top priority right now. We will use all resources and personnel needed. I’ve mobilized the NC National Guard to provide support to local health providers as we continue to increase the pace of vaccinations,” said Cooper.