CHARLOTTE – On Tuesday, March 11, Governor Cooper announced that some members of Group 4 will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on March 17, a full week earlier than anticipated.
Prior to February 24, only individuals in Groups 1 and 2 – a group limited to healthcare workers, long-term care staff and residents, and individuals 65 years or older – could receive a COVID-19 vaccine. On February 24, PK-12 school employees including teachers, principals, childcare providers, bus drivers, custodial and cafeteria staff, became eligible to receive the vaccine. It marked the first dip into Group 3, a large group of frontline essential workers from eight essential sectors determined by the federal government.
On Tuesday, March 2, Governor Cooper announced that due to a boost in supply all frontline workers could begin signing up March 3, a full week earlier than expected. Governor Cooper and NCDHHS Secretary Doctor Mandy Cohen, who also spoke at the press conference, received their vaccinations last week as part of this group under the umbrella of “government and community services.” Cooper received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, and Cohen received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but both leaders stressed that there’s no need to pick and choose.
“It’s important for everybody to know that all three of these vaccines protect equally against serious illness and death, which is the most important thing when we’re talking about COVID-19,” assured Cooper. “I had Pfizer because I wanted to start on the first day of essential workers, to show other essential workers on the frontline I was with them and encouraging them. Pfizer is what they had, so that’s what I took.”
“I would encourage anyone when it is your spot to take the first appointment you can to get your vaccine,” added Cohen. “I think these are three safe and effective vaccines. I encourage you to get the first vaccine that is available to you so we can get folks vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
The newly eligible members of Group 4 will include people with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of complications from COVID-19 as well as people living in some congregate settings that increase their risk of exposure. NC follows the recommendations of the CDC in terms of defining who qualifies as high risk:
- Asthma (moderate to severe)
- Cerebrovascular disease or history of stroke
- Chronic kidney disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Diabetes type 1 or 2
- A heart condition such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathy
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from: immune deficiencies, HIV, taking chronic steroids or other immune weakening medicines, history of solid organ blood or bone marrow transplant
- Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, including Down Syndrome
- Liver disease, including hepatitis
- Neurologic conditions,such as dementia and schizophrenia
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Overweight or obesity
- Sickle cell disease (not including sickle cell trait) or thalassemia
- Smoking (current or former, defined as having smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime)
No proof will be required that you suffer from a medical condition that puts you at high risk to schedule or receive a vaccine. “We’re going to rely on people’s good judgement and their knowledge of their own medical conditions,” said Cooper. “There’s no written proof that’s required.”
Cooper and Cohen fielded several questions about bundling such numerous and varied medical conditions under the umbrella of “high risk.” Is someone who narrowly qualifies as overweight truly at the same risk level as someone with cancer? Cohen admitted that everyone labeled “high risk” in Group 4 is not at equal risk but the consensus is that the less cumbersome the process of vaccination is the better, and NCDHHS didn’t want to slow the process by defining who was eligible too precisely or narrowly. “We know it’s a large group,” said Cohen. “We know it will take time. With increased supply and work of vaccine providers, we believe we can vaccinate everyone with some increased risk.
Also eligible on March 17 are people who live in certain congregate settings: the homeless and those living in homeless shelters and correctional facilities who have not already been vaccinated. Additional members of Group 4 will be eligible to receive the vaccine on April 7, including additional essential workers and people living in close group settings.
Although data indicates providers are ready to move into Group 4, Cooper and Cohen acknowledged that demand for vaccines still vastly outweighs supply. Appointments disappear quickly, but North Carolina continues to focus on increasing access and getting vaccines into arms as quickly as possible.
At the time of the governor’s press conference, there had been 879,825 documented COVID-19 cases in the state of North Carolina, up 2061 from the day before. 1039 people were hospitalized statewide; 11,622 had died. “We still have work to do,” said Cooper, urging continued masking and good judgment, “but I’m pleased that our COVID-19 numbers continue to stay stable. Until there is enough vaccine, wearing our masks is as important as ever.”
To find your vaccine group or a vaccine location, visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.