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NC leaders mull opening COVID vaccinations to those 65 and older

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Dec. 22, 2020 - Buncombe County Health and Human Services began administering Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine to first responders, including paramedics, firefighters, and public health staff working at the testing and vaccinations sites. (Photo courtesy Buncombe County Health and Human Services)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending states begin allowing people 65 years and older and those who are high-risk to get a COVID-19 shot. North Carolina recently entered Phase 1b of its vaccination plan, which includes people 75 years and older.

Will state leaders follow the CDC's recommendation?

During a statewide news briefing Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper expressed some frustration with the CDC's evolving recommendations.

"One of the continuing problems we've had with the federal government is that they have continued to shift their advice on what the priorities for the vaccine should be. We all know there are severely limited amounts of vaccines," Cooper said.

The limited amount of vaccines means many people 75 years and older will still have to wait to get their COVID-19 shots, even though they're technically eligible now. Expanding vaccine eligibility would take additional vaccine supply, and likely lots of it.

According to data from the NCDHHS, some 257,165 doses of vaccine have been administered statewide since Monday, Jan. 11. State officials said Tuesday that over the last week, vaccine output had increased by 113%, with nearly 100,000 doses administered over the past seven days.

But still, North Carolina ranks near the bottom in vaccine distribution, according to data from the CDC. For many, their turn to get a dose isn't coming as soon as they'd like.

HENDERSON CO. MOVES INTO NEXT PHASE OF VACCINATIONS, HEALTH OFFICIALS MONITOR COVID CASES

The director of the Henderson County Health Department said Tuesday that many people have been eagerly calling them, asking for their turn to get a shot.

The Henderson County Health Department just opened a call center Tuesday to begin scheduling vaccination appointments for people 75 years and older. An employee manning the phone lines said they had to turn some people away over the phone, because they were not 75 years or older.

Henderson County resident Patti Brewer is one of the many people eagerly awaiting her turn. She said she didn't expect to be first; those on the frontlines should take priority. But she had hoped, at 68 years old, she'd be able to get the vaccine right now, too. She had hoped to be grouped with those 75 and older as part of Phase 1b.

FIRST DAY OF PHASE 1B VACCINE SCHEDULING IN HENDERSON COUNTY OVERWHELMS PHONE LINES

If North Carolina leaders don't make any changes to their vaccination prioritization, that means she'd have to wait until the first part of Phase 2.

A spokesperson for the NCDHHS said because states are informed about their vaccine allocations weekly, NCDHHS cannot predict the timeline for each phase.

"It's a waiting game, and who knows how long it's going to be. It could be March, it could be April, it could be early summer," Brewer said.

Brewer said she's afraid she and others her age may get COVID-19 while they wait for their turn.

"Your mind plays tricks on you, saying, 'Well, I hope I can make it four more months, maybe, or however long it's going to take.' It would be horrible if one of us got it and there's vaccine I could get,'" she said.

MORE MOUNTAIN COUNTIES ROLL OUT PHASE 1B OF COVID-19 VACCINATIONS

Cooper said Tuesday state leaders would take the CDC's recommendation into consideration, though.

"We will look at that to determine whether that will be done, if it makes sense to consider doing that," Cooper said.

Brewer said that decision could mean life or death for some.

"Plenty of people in their 60s have gotten a bad case and died," Brewer said.

NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen said they would confer with the NC Vaccine Advisory Committee and make a decision "quickly."

In South Carolina, officials with the Department of Health and Environmental Control said they, too, would consider the CDC's recommendation. They noted, expanding vaccinations to those 65 and up would add another 250,000 people to their list. though. South Carolina is currently scheduling vaccinations for those 70 years and older as part of their Phase 1b.

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