By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Anyone 16 years old or older in North Carolina who wants to get the COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible to do so starting April 7, state officials said today.
Gov. Roy Cooper and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen announced the state is again speeding up efforts to make the vaccine available to more people. North Carolina will make the vaccine available to the rest of Group 4 starting March 31, and people in Group 5 starting April 7.
“All adults will then be eligible for the vaccine,” Cooper said Thursday in a live-streamed press conference.
The vaccines are not yet authorized for emergency use in children or younger teens. Teenagers who are 16 or 17 can receive the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, but the Moderna two-dose vaccine series and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are only authorized for emergency use in people 18 or older.
“There’s only one of the three vaccines that is currently authorized for emergency use in those 16 or 17,” and that’s the Pfizer vaccine, Cohen said.
The state plans to update its website to make it easier for people to find out which vaccine each provider is offering, so 16 and 17-year-olds can find a provider who can give them the Pfizer shots.
Hoke County’s vaccine providers, including the Health Department, Cape Fear Valley Health and FirstHealth of the Carolinas, are already offering appointments to everyone in Group 4 – ahead of the March 31 target date the state has set. However, supplies of the vaccine are still limited and appointments may fill up.
Providers in North Carolina have administered more than 4.2 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, the governor said.
“The vaccine is our path to recovery. It is our road to normalcy,” Cooper said.
Officials emphasized that although the numbers continue improving, people should continue taking precautions. The pandemic is not over yet, Cooper said.
“We need to keep up our guard, wear our masks and be responsible,” he said. “We’re close to getting where we want to be, so let’s stay the course and get there faster.”
Cohen said health officials are having conversations about when things can further get back to normal, but factors such as the COVID-19 virus variants make that harder to determine.
“The wild card in all this is, the virus changes,” she said.
The state also announced a public-private partnership called Healthier Together that will focus on making the vaccine more accessible to people in marginalized populations. The partnership will work to provide grant funding to support organizations trying to provide transportation and education efforts in local communities. The program is funded through federal COVID-19 dollars, officials said.