RALEIGH — A letter dated Jan. 24 from the NC Association of Local Health Directors to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen expresses concern with the department’s vaccine directives and calls for more communication and better transparency.
The NC Association of Local Health Directors (NCALHD) mission is to “promote health, prevent disease, protect the environment in order to ensure the public’s health in North Carolina through leadership, vision, advocacy, and commitment to the principles of public health practice in our local communities and throughout the state.”
The letter to Cohen was signed by NCALHD’s president Stacie Turpin Saunders and executive director Katye Griffin and lists a series of “major concerns and issues” with the recent vaccination directive from N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) which shifted doses from counties to mass vaccination event sites despite local ramp up and appointment setting.
“While decisions for vaccine rollout are made by NCDHHS, the consequences of those decisions are felt at the local level. All response implementation is local — in communities and neighborhoods where LHDs, hospitals and other providers have built foundations of trust, integrity, and service,” write Saunders and Griffin.
NCALHD has asked NCDHHS to be transparent about vaccination allocations and provide “clear communication and realistic timelines” when it comes to carrying out directives. The letter also says that “No local health department should ever receive a zero allocation.”
The first concern in the letter notes NCDHHS’ change is tied to both the department’s “desire to improve national rankings” and NCDHH’s directive to move “all 1st doses off shelves by end of January 25.”
“This directive includes 120,000 doses that were only just delivered January 21 per direct NCDHHS communication,” the letter states. “Communication from NCDHHS states the need for this quick removal of vaccine is to meet a federal directive and DHHS communications reference need/desire to improve national rankings.”
The letter says that mass vaccination events have diverted much needed vaccine doses from local communities and has “left many providers with little to no vaccine to fulfill their already scheduled appointments for health care workers and those 65 years and older.”
In addition, the NCALHD also decried being forced to abandon scheduled appointments citing “direct guidance” from NCDHHS telling them to “cancel those appointments” to get vaccines “off shelves by January 25.”
After following the rules and setting up appointments, the letter states local health departments are now “forced to call back these individuals, who are overwhelmingly those 65 years and older, and inform them that they no longer have a vaccine. Because doses were diverted, grandmothers and grandfathers who had appointments in rural NC now wait. Health care workers who had appointments where they serve patients now wait.”
On Jan. 25, the day after NCALHD sent their letter, NCDHHS launched its “Find My Vaccine Group” website. The new tool is supposed to help North Carolinians find out what group they fit into to get their dose of the vaccine and then allows for notification when their group can get vaccinated.
“Given the very limited supplies we currently have, there may be wait times, but every North Carolinian has a spot. A spot for accurate information. A spot in line. A spot to take their shot,” said Cohen in a press release.
The release states that “North Carolina’s goal is to vaccinate as many people as quickly and equitably as possible.” It also said the CDC had “ranked North Carolina 10th in total vaccines administered and 29th in vaccines administered per 100,000 people.” By Jan. 29, NCDHHS was boasting the state was now ranked sixth in the nation for number of doses administered.
The state had been one of the slowest in the country in terms of vaccine disbursement and administration leading up to the weekend of Jan. 24. NCDHHS credits “large-scale vaccination events” and asking providers to “aggressively ramp up their vaccine throughput” with the ranking shift.