North Carolina prepares to receive first Covid-19 vaccines

North Carolina prepares to receive first Covid-19 vaccines
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As the FDA gets closer to approving the first Covid-19 vaccine, North Carolina is preparing to receive the first small shipment of it. State officials are in the midst of determining what distribution will look like after that.

In a press conference Tuesday, Governor Cooper said he anticipates the state will receive its first shipment of about 84,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this month. The Pfizer vaccine is the one that requires ultra-cold storage. Already, hospitals around the state, including Atrium and Novant, have begun purchasing refrigeration units to store the vaccines.

“North Carolina is working hard to hit the ground running when these vaccines are approved and shipped,” Cooper said.

Currently, the North Carolina Institute of Medicine is working with state officials to determine how to prioritize distribution. NC DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said that the early rollout will go to the following, in order:

  • Hospital workers such as nurses and doctors, who are at high risk for exposure to Covid-19
  • Residents and workers in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes
  • “High-risk” adults such as those with chronic conditions

In Mecklenburg County, there are 29 active Covid-19 outbreaks in congregate living facilities, as of Tuesday afternoon. Half of the county’s 456 Covid deaths were connected to active outbreaks at long-term care facilities.

Vaccines for everyone else: It will take “several months” to have enough supply so that everyone can readily get a Covid-19 vaccine, Cohen said. Officials did not set a timeline for the rollout to everyone else, such as healthy young adults.

The FDA likely will approve other vaccines soon after it approves the Pfizer one. Moderna, for instance, filed for FDA approval earlier this month. Like the Pfizer vaccine, Moderna’s claims to be 95 effective in clinical trials. Eventually, North Carolina will receive weekly doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

An Atrium Health employee handles a Covid-19 vaccine

An Atrium Health employee handles a Covid-19 vaccine (courtesy of Atrium Health)

Here are a few other details to know about Covid-19 vaccines:

  • Vaccines will be free to everyone in North Carolina regardless of whether they have health insurance or not.
  • Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines have serious side effects. Minor side effects for Pfizer’s include pain at the injection site, fatigue, chills, and fever, the Washington Post reports; for Moderna, it could mean pain at the injection site, muscle aches. and headaches.
  • State health officials urge everyone to get a vaccine when they are able to.

We have some concerns about people not wanting to get vaccinated,” Cooper said. “In order for this to work, we need to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”

Atrium Dr. Lewis McCurdy reminded those with concerns about the vaccine that immunizations make the world a safer place.

“My hope is that people will step up and take the vaccine because I do think it is going to be a significant way to reduce the length of this pandemic,” said McCurdy, an infectious disease specialist.

Yes, but: Although the vaccine news is encouraging, it’s too soon to let your guard down, officials warned. Throughout the holidays, it will still be crucial to wear a mask and maintain social distancing — especially when you are around people from outside your own household.

Cooper didn’t enact tighter coronavirus safety measures on Tuesday, but he said he would if metrics continue to worsen. “All options are on the table,” Cooper said, including a curfew. But for now, he added, following the safety measures in place during phase 3 should help to slow the spread of the virus.

“Don’t give up now when help is on the way,” Cooper said.

McCurdy was hopeful that enough people will take the vaccine by spring or summer of next year, creating some level of Covid-19 protection throughout the community. “The thing that we don’t want to do is become complacent about all the behaviors that we’ve sort of been talking about for months now about how to prevent coronavirus.”

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