I want to share the legislative update we got today from Secretary Mandy Cohen about vaccine distribution, which I discussed earlier in a Facebook Live post. The very short answer is that we have too much demand and not enough supply, but I want to tell you what we're going to do about it.
Our old problem a week ago was that we had too much vaccine and not enough people who were getting the vaccine, but our new problem is the opposite. Now we have too much demand and not enough communication for people who want the vaccine - about when they can get it and why they can't get it. Why are we here? What's the situation?
We have given 812,000 vaccine doses in North Carolina, 280,000 of those just in the last six days. And we have now given out 95% of all vaccines provided to the state of North Carolina. We were 43rd in vaccine distribution just a week ago but according to the data Secretary Cohen gave us today, we’ve moved up to ninth in terms of vaccine distribution. So we’re about where we should be in terms of vaccine distribution, but we can't keep that rate up. We can't do another 280,000 vaccines in a week because the Feds are only going to be sending us 120,000 doses per week. So we did a good job of getting rid of the backlog, but now we've got another supply and demand problem. So what are we going to do?
The state is going to give 84,000 doses a week to the counties to divide up through the county health departments and the networks that they've already got. Every county will get a guaranteed number of doses for the next three weeks, and those will be split up between the providers and the counties.
There will be another 36,000 doses that DHHS will split up, to distribute to three groups:
One, any counties that got less than what they needed and have additional demand (although no word on how they will determine which counties to distribute to); Two, they're going to target marginalized populations that haven't gotten their share of the vaccine yet. So for instance, if we see that African-American North Carolinians haven't gotten their share of the vaccine, they will channel some of those 36,000 doses towards providers that are focused on getting to the African-American population so that we have an equitable approach to distribution; And then, three, to new providers who are just getting on-board with providing the vaccine, because we're going to have to onboard some new providers so that we have much greater capacity for providing the vaccine.
If you're one of my constituents, here's a couple of things that I've learned locally. I think that Orange County is moving more staff to the Health Department call center. So if you've tried to contact Orange County and get a reservation for a vaccine appointment, and you haven't heard anything back, they're trying to put more staff on that to get back to people.
One really good piece of good news is that Caswell County has already vaccinated everyone in their assisted living facilities, which is fantastic. Thanks to Vernon Massengill from North Village Pharmacy for helping to coordinate that. I look forward to helping make sure that Caswell County gets its fair share of doses over the next few weeks.
I did get a few constituent questions that I asked Secretary Cohen about in our conversation today:
“What about law enforcement? Why have they not gotten access to the vaccine yet?” And, “Why are we vaccinating healthy people over 65 before people who are younger than 65 and have comorbidities?” The answer that Secretary Cohen gave to these illustrates these two different groups and why they're in different stages of who's going to get the vaccine. She said that we're not just looking at risk of outcomes. We're not only looking at the risk of how likely are you to die from the virus. We're also looking at the risk of exposure because if you're more likely to be exposed, you're more likely to take other healthcare resources. And so law enforcement is getting the vaccine in the next group, Group Three - we're on Group Two right now - because of their high risk of exposure.
People with comorbidities who are under 65 are getting it in Group Four because 80% of the deaths are people who are above the age of 65. And so there is a larger risk for people who are over 65 than for people who have comorbidities and are younger, but can stay at home. We could talk about how you make this decision between exposure and outcomes, but that's the reasoning for the current decision. And I think the real challenge is that we just need more supply to be able to address all of that.
I also got a lot of questions about what are we doing about schools? When are schools going to be able to reopen? Teachers are also in the next group - Group Three - when are we going to be able to get to Group Three?
We don't really have an answer to that because it'll depend on how quickly the Feds can get us additional vaccines. But when we do get to Group Three, teachers are in that next group. President Biden's team thinks that reopening schools is one of the most important pieces of their vaccination plan. They understand how important it is to the spread of the virus and to our economy. We need teachers and parents and school boards to be working together on the plan of how quickly we can get schools back open and do it safely because it really should be one of our top priorities.
I also got a question about these mega events, like at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and there's going to be one at Carolina Panther stadium this week, and how they are taking doses away from county-based distribution. Why is that happening? Well, the reason that's happening is because two weeks ago, when we had the excess supply and the Feds were saying they weren’t going to be willing to give us more vaccine unless we’ve used it all up, DHHS went ahead and scheduled these mega events so that they could try to get rid of the excess vaccine that we had on hand.
And as it turns out - the providers did such a good job of getting it out to people that we got rid of the excess vaccine. And so now we have this big event this weekend that was committed to, and so supply had to be taken from one place to go to this mega event. I don't know if there's going to be any more mega events. I do think that this response of making sure that all counties have a guaranteed set of doses for the next three weeks is in part a response to that.
What should you do if you're interested in finding out how you get the vaccine?
If you don't know what group you're in, there's a new website. https://findmygroup.nc.gov/.
If you're in Group One or Two, you're eligible for the vaccine. You can go to Find Your Spot, Take Your Shot: https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/findyourspot.
In Orange County, call (919) 913-8088, or go to www.orangecountync.gov/getyourshot.
If you're a veteran you might want to try through the VA: https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/.
And if any of this is making you struggle with mental health needs, NCDHHS released a COVID-19 Community Readiness Toolkit to help manage mental health needs during the pandemic: https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/about-covid-19/wellness-resources.
So here's my final take on this. I think that a few months from now, we probably won't have the problem that we're in today. It's very frustrating today, but we can't mess up the distribution of this. As things scale up, we've got to get it right. We've got to get it out to people efficiently. We need to have some faith that the Biden administration will deliver more vaccine. By the time we get to the end of February, we may be in a much better place. And all the projections right now are that we may get to the point of having vaccinated people to the level that we need to by sometime in early summer. So we're getting there. I feel more hopeful than I have all year, and think that if we can work together, we can make this happen.
Please know that you can reach out to me anytime with questions or concerns.
For our future,
Rep. Graig Meyer
N.C. House District 50
Paid for by the Committee to Elect Graig Meyer
Committee to Elect Graig Meyer
PO Box 867
Hillsborough, NC 27278