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Nearly all state health workers vaccinated in North Carolina

October 11, 2021 GMT
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. North Carolina health officials announced on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 that nearly all of the state health department's 10,000 employees working within 14 state-operated healthcare facilities are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. North Carolina health officials announced on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 that nearly all of the state health department's 10,000 employees working within 14 state-operated healthcare facilities are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. North Carolina health officials announced on Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 that nearly all of the state health department's 10,000 employees working within 14 state-operated healthcare facilities are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina officials announced Monday that nearly all of the 10,000 employees working in 14 state-operated health care facilities are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, 6% of workers got an approved medical or religious exemption or a special accommodation, while the remaining 94% are fully vaccinated.

When the department announced the vaccine mandate in July, three-fourths of workers had already gotten a shot. The remaining workers and those with just one of two shots had until the end September to become fully vaccinated or secure an approved exemption from the department. Since then, just 16 workers, or less than 0.2% of the total workforce, were fired for their refusal to comply with the directive.

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Chief Deputy Secretary for Health Kody H. Kinsley said the minimal number of job losses proves the effectiveness of mandatory vaccination policies.

“We could not be prouder of our employees for recognizing the essential role vaccination plays in protecting everyone in our facilities. For the work they do and the challenges they continue to overcome, they are nothing less than heroes,” Kinsley said. “The small number of employee dismissals is a testament to the fact that vaccine mandates are an effective tool to stop the spread of COVID-19 and save lives.”

The share of vaccinated workers within the department’s Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities greatly outpaces the statewide average and those of several other state Cabinet agencies.

The most recent data from the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources shows the Governor’s Office with the highest vaccination rate: 70 of 71 staff members fully vaccinated.

The Department of Public Safety, the largest Cabinet-level agency subject to an executive order from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper mandating workers be vaccinated or tested weekly and masked, has 58% of staff members fully vaccinated, or 11,611 of its 20,139 employees.

As of Monday, 63% of North Carolinians who qualify for the vaccine because they are at least 12 years old are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data collected by state health officials.

The pace of vaccinations has slowed dramatically across the state in recent weeks. While numbers continue to come in from last week, the latest data shows less than 30,000 North Carolinians got a first dose last week. This represents the lowest weekly count since the week of Dec. 14 — the first week the state began administering doses after receiving limited supplies from the federal government.

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Despite reluctance among residents to get vaccinated, North Carolina’s COVID metrics continue to improve. Hospitalizations have dropped by nearly 31% over the past two weeks, and the share of tests coming back positive has been in the single digits for each of the past 13 days.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak.

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Follow Anderson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BryanRAnderson.

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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.