Vaccine slow to roll out in state | Latest ranking puts NC 48th in nation

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RALEIGH – Legislators pressed the Cooper Administration this week for answers on North Carolina’s near-last-in-the-nation ranking on vaccine distribution. The hearing took place amid reports that future vaccine allocations from the federal government may be based on states’ progress on getting shots into arms.

As of Tuesday, North Carolina has used just 25.8 percent of the doses it has received from the federal government, which ranks 48th in the country. Many lawmakers have pointed to the administration’s decision to replicate the ‘county-centric’ model that, in many instances, failed to deliver hurricane relief efficiently.

In 2019 (months before the pandemic began in 2020) the Cooper Administration’s Director of Emergency Management claimed “We have learned from experience that many local governments lack the staff expertise and capacity to administer [disaster relief].”

Yet the administration did not apply that lesson to its vaccine distribution plan, which relies almost entirely on counties. Several counties in eastern North Carolina, including Pamlico County, concede that inadequate staffing is part of the problem. 

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen told lawmakers that some counties are performing well while others are lagging behind, and that the proper time to critique crisis management is not during the crisis. Cohen also discussed who is prioritized for vaccination. She expressed frustration at changing federal guidelines on the subject. But the ultimate arbiter of determining who gets shots – and when – is Secretary Cohen herself.

Last month, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) urged Cohen to simplify the prioritization plan to place more emphasis on age. At the time,  Cohen demurred, citing guidance issued by the Center for Disease Control. That existing state policy is now seeing almost daily revisions, as many senior citizens are learning.