By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Teachers, school staff and childcare workers in North Carolina will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting February 24, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday. More frontline workers in Group 3 will be eligible for the vaccine starting March 10.
The state is moving PreK-12 educators and childcare workers to the front of the line as it begins to expand the vaccine rollout to include more people. Vaccine supply continues to be limited and the Group 3 population of essential workers is large, so the state needs to move forward gradually, officials said.
“I am grateful to all of our educators and school personnel for going above and beyond in this pandemic to care for children and help them continue to learn,” Cooper said in a statement. “Starting with a smaller number of Group 3 frontline essential workers helps providers streamline vaccine distribution effectively and efficiently.”
The expansion includes people working in school settings in traditional public schools, charter schools and private schools, such as teachers, bus and van drivers, custodial and maintenance staff, and food service workers; and staff in childcare centers and homes, Head Start Programs, Preschool and PreK programs.
The announcement came about a week after Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen urged North Carolina’s public schools to reopen for in-person instruction. Cooper and Cohen cited studies reportedly showing that schoolchildren, especially young children, are less likely to spread the illness in school settings and are also less likely to suffer serious illness if they do catch the coronavirus. Children who caught the virus were more likely to have contracted it outside of a school building, according to the research.
Hoke County Schools are set to return to a hybrid “Plan B” schedule February 22, with two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote learning each week. The schools are following social distancing guidelines and taking other precautions, including temperature checks, installing desk shields where necessary and frequently cleaning classrooms. Families can still choose to keep their children at home under the online-only “Plan C” option.
Although teachers will be eligible to get the vaccine starting February 24, supplies are still limited and it may take some time for educators and childcare workers to actually get the shot, Cohen said.
“It does not mean that that is the day they are going to get an appointment,” she said in a live-streamed press conference.
The state is receiving about 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government each week. State officials continue to urge providers to use up all the vaccine they receive every week to keep things moving.
The state is still relying on two-dose vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, but it’s possible a vaccine by another company could become available soon.
“We are hoping a third vaccine will be reviewed and approved by the FDA soon,” Cohen said.
Vaccine providers will also continue vaccinating people in Group 1 and Group 2, including people who are 65 years old or older, and healthcare workers. The federal government is working to vaccinate residents and staff at long-term care facilities through a contract with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies.
More than 40 percent of North Carolina’s residents 65 and older have been vaccinated, according to the state. Vaccine providers in the state have administered more than 1 million first doses of vaccine and more than 1.5 million total doses.
Detailed information about each vaccine group is online at YourShotYourSpot.nc.gov (English) or vacunate.nc.gov (Spanish).