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North Carolina prepares to vaccinate nursing home workers

December 18, 2020 GMT
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Dr. Dan Schenkat shows Gov. Roy Cooper, right, a vial containing Covid-19 vaccine at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, where frontline healthcare workers are among some of the first recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)
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Dr. Dan Schenkat shows Gov. Roy Cooper, right, a vial containing Covid-19 vaccine at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, where frontline healthcare workers are among some of the first recipients of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina is preparing to vaccinate workers in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities next week.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that it plans to receive 61,425 doses of Pfizer’s newly approved vaccine from the federal government next week.

If the Food and Drug Administration follows a key panel’s recommendation to approve Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, North Carolina will get 175,900 doses of it. The state health department said about 96,000 of its allotment from Moderna will go to long-term care facilities.

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“We expect shipments to occur over several days as they did in week 1,” the department said, referencing its first batch of about 85,000 Pfizer doses it was scheduled to receive this week.

Under the state’s vaccine distribution plan, hospital workers who are vital to the COVID-19 response or at high risk of exposure to the virus are the first to get inoculated, followed by workers in long-term health care settings, such as nursing homes. Residents in those facilities are next on the priority list.

Pfizer’s vaccine comes with extra logistical hurdles, such as ultracold storing at -94 degrees Fahrenheit (-70 Celsius). Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require people to receive two shots, with Pfizer spacing out doses by three weeks and Moderna adopting a four-week waiting period between shots.

Complicating matters is the coordination between governors, public health officials and the federal government to establish where vials should be shipped. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper this week urged Vice President Mike Pence to offer more advance notice about its weekly vaccine allotment. States have been assured they’ll have more time to plan going forward.

Some states have reported they’ll receive fewer doses than expected for the second week of distribution.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams said earlier this week that the state’s next batch of the Pfizer vaccine would be around 25% to 30% less than expected. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has warned of delays because of production issues.

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North Carolina’s public health department did not comment on whether its second wave of doses of the Pfizer vaccine is lighter than expected.

Regardless, the distribution of vaccines comes at a time when it is gravely needed.

North Carolina on Friday reported its highest single-day increase in confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 8,400 positive diagnoses. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the state reported its 10th consecutive day of a double-digit positivity rate. North Carolina had aimed to get that proportion of tests coming back positive down to 5% before the Thanksgiving holiday.

In 16 of the past 17 days, the state has reported its highest number of people hospitalized because of COVID-19. More than 2,800 people are currently hospitalized, nearly twice as many as a month ago. Deaths have also climbed, with nearly 100 new daily deaths reported Wednesday.

More than 466,000 people have tested positive for the virus in North Carolina since the start of the pandemic, which amounts to about 1 in 23 residents. Over 6,100 people have died of COVID-19.

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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.