North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccine supplies remain limited

Roy Cooper in black facemask
99 PERCENT: As of Jan. 27, North Carolina had distributed 99.8% of the COVID-19 vaccines allocated to the state by the federal government, said Gov. Roy Cooper. Photo courtesy of the N.C. Department of Public Safety

To the many North Carolinians frustrated by busy phone lines, cancelled appointments and long waiting lists, securing a COVID-19 vaccine under the state’s ever-shifting distribution plan has felt like a shot in the dark. But state health officials maintain that recent changes designed to clear out a backlog of unused doses, including the redirection of vaccines from some providers to mass vaccination clinics, will signal to federal authorities that North Carolina is ready to inoculate as quickly as supplies allow.

As of Jan. 27, vaccine providers throughout the state have successfully administered 99.8% of the first doses received from the federal government, said Gov. Roy Cooper at a Jan. 27 press conference. Starting next week, North Carolina will get an additional 140,000 first doses — a 16% increase from federal projections shared on Jan. 26, he noted — but it’s still not enough to meet the need in all 100 counties.

“Our biggest problem right now is that millions of people want a shot, but we only have hundreds of thousands of doses,” Cooper said. “There are people working night and day to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible so everyone can be vaccinated. There will be a time when everyone can get one, and we want to make sure everyone can access it as quickly as possible.”

Beginning this week, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services officials will begin announcing county vaccine allocations three weeks in advance to help health departments plan clinics. Local vaccine providers have been instructed to administer all first doses sent to them each week before they get their next shipment, explained Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. Second doses will be sent separately in quantities mirroring first dose allocations, she said.

Buncombe County received a state shipment of 975 vaccines on Jan. 27, according to a county press release, all of which will be administered by Monday, Feb. 1. The county will continue to expect shipments of 975 doses for the next several weeks, said Stacie Saunders, Buncombe’s public health director, during a Jan. 26 update before the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

The majority of state nursing homes and long-term care facilities are being vaccinated through a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens. According to NCDHHS, approximately 50% of the 165,900 first doses allotted to this program had been administered as of Jan. 25; only four of the 131,400 second doses had been given to residents and staff. State health officials have no oversight or legal ability to intervene in this federal rollout, Cooper said.

State case counts, hospitalizations stabilizing

North Carolina COVID-19 case graph
CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC: The number of new daily COVID-19 cases in North Carolina has dropped steadily from the all-time high on Jan. 9, although the metric remains higher than health officials would like. Graphic courtesy of NCDHHS

By Cohen’s analysis, North Carolina has officially moved past the winter COVID-19 surge brought on by holiday travel and celebrations. All four of the metrics the state uses to track viral spread — the number of people showing up to emergency rooms with coronavirus-like symptoms, daily case counts, hospitalizations and rate of positive viral tests — are slowly declining, Cohen said, although all remain much higher than her targets.

Locally, Buncombe County’s COVID-19 positivity rate has dropped to 7.5%, a decrease of 1.3 percentage points over the last week. Area hospitals report that 11.4% of inpatient hospital beds and 29% of intensive care unit beds are occupied with COVID-19 patients; NCDHHS reports 188 patients are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus across Western North Carolina.

That doesn’t mean North Carolina is out of the woods, Cohen cautioned. On Jan. 23, a Mecklenburg County resident was diagnosed with the new B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus. Early research indicates this mutation of the virus, which was first detected in the United Kingdom in December, is more contagious than other strains.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United Kingdom variant has also infected at least two people in Tennessee and six people in Georgia.

As the governor has in nearly every COVID-19 briefing since the start of the pandemic, Cooper emphasized the need to continue to follow social distancing protocols. The statewide modified stay-at-home order and mask mandate have both been extended through at least Sunday, Feb. 28, he announced. A statewide eviction moratorium will remain in effect through Wednesday, March 31; Cooper’s executive order allowing for the sale of to-go mixed beverages also will remain in place through the end of March.

In other news


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Molly Horak
Molly Horak served as a reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @molly_horak

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.