By Julie Havlak
Carolina Journal News Service
RALEIGH — After a slow start, North Carolina is ramping up its COVID-19 vaccinations.
Some 9.2% of residents got the first shot of COVID-19 vaccines by Monday, Feb. 8, when 970,162 people had received a first dose, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Two days earlier, an average 8.6% of COVID-19 tests came back positive.
North Carolina now ranks 24th in the nation for its percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered, according to the Becker’s Hospital Review.
The state shot up the rankings in late January, but its rollout got off to a rocky start. Elderly residents crossed the state border to get vaccines, hospitals canceled thousands of appointments, and the slow rollout left many confused and frustrated.
North Carolina spent weeks lagging behind the nation. Early January saw massive backlogs — even as the federal government tied vaccine supply to the success of states’ vaccine rollouts. State lawmakers and health care advocates criticized North Carolina’s progress and questioned the governor’s vaccination plan.
By the first week of January, North Carolina was sitting on almost three-fourths of its available doses. The state had given only 25.5% of its available doses, according to the CDC. Only five other states in the country had worse vaccination rates, and West Virginia’s rate was almost triple that of North Carolina.
North Carolina had climbed to the lower middle of the pack by Jan. 26. It ranked 32nd out of the 50 states for administering 699,722 of 1,250,900 available vaccines, according to the CDC. North Carolina’s own data shows a better performance. The state has administered 69% of the doses.
The state used mass vaccination sites to ramp up its numbers, but that tactic earned backlash from local providers. They argued it left elderly and rural residents without access to vaccine sites. Hospitals had to cancel thousands of appointments as the state diverted vaccines toward Charlotte and Durham.
But the state gained ground. North Carolina had injected 99% of the first doses sent by the federal government by Jan. 27. The state rocketed from 40th in first doses administered per 100,000 residents to 12th in a week.
North Carolinians in nursing homes and long-term care homes aren’t so lucky. Only 64% of the first doses had reached patients’ arms in long-term care homes as of Monday, Feb. 8. The federal government manages that rollout.
Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen says a limited supply of vaccines is coming into the state, and health officials have little advanced notice when it does arrive.
“North Carolina is ready to take on more vaccines, and we need those vaccines now,” Cohen said during a press conference in late January. “We know that this is hard on North Carolinians. Demand for vaccines is vastly greater than supply.”