N.C. wasting some COVID doses, top health official says
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s top public official acknowledged for the first time on Thursday that the state has seen a small number of coronavirus vaccine doses thrown out at a time when supplies remain limited.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen also announced a new $2.5 million effort with the Department of Transportation to provide free transportation to and from vaccination clinics.
Still, North Carolina has seen an unspecified number of doses scrapped. The state has not publicly shared the number of wasted doses due to a vaccine being stored too long in a freezer or not being administered in a timely manner once it has been taken out of a freezer. Cohen estimated the waste is “in the tens of doses.”
The discarded supplies pale in comparison to the 573,130 doses administered by the end of Wednesday. The state is working to ramp up vaccination through its new transportation initiative.
People in need of rides to vaccination clinics are encouraged to reach out to their local transit agency. Each agency will get a set amount of money, and the program will continue until the Coronavirus Relief Funding is exhausted.
“Lack of transportation shouldn’t be the reason someone doesn’t get their shot,” Cohen said at a news conference.
Asked about vaccine supply shortages from the federal government, Cohen said she wants the existing supply of first doses to dwindle, which would demonstrate that the state is more efficiently utilizing its resources. “That is our goal. To run out of vaccines every week before the next shipment comes, and that’s what we have directed our local health departments and hospitals. Yes, we are running out of vaccines in all places.”
Cohen wants the 136 different vaccine providers in the state to develop waiting lists for residents 65 years or older who are currently eligible to get vaccinated. Some Charlotte-area residents cancelled existing vaccine appointments after earlier ones became available.
In cases where wait lists aren’t yet in place, she is urging vaccinators to grab someone off the street to ensure no additional doses go to waste.
“The supplies are truly limited, and everyone’s going to have to have some patience here as we work to get more vaccine here into the state over a period of time,” Cohen said.
The state health department is working to address concerns that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not adequately representing the state’s vaccine progress on a website where it releases vaccine data. The CDC data on Wednesday ranked North Carolina as the 11th slowest state in the country in administering doses per capita and underrepresented the number of doses North Carolina has administered to date by about 150,000.
Cohen urged people to look at the state’s dashboard for the latest numbers, rather than the CDC.
“Many of those rankings and charts are out of date,” Cohen said. “We’ve actually already flagged for the CDC to understand what the data lag and data discrepancy is between what we’re seeing here in North Carolina and the data we do submit to them every night to make sure that we can line that up a bit better.”
The Trump administration said earlier this month that it would base vaccine allocations on the percentage of doses each state has successfully administered and the number of elderly residents in each state, but President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the agency has not yet been confirmed or put forward new guidance.
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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.