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COVID19 vaccine disproportionally available for rural Western North Carolina counties 

Early Thursday The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced it is partnering with health systems, local health departments, and community health centers across the state to host large community vaccine events for people currently eligible to be vaccinated. More than 45,000 vaccines are expected to be given through these events. 

“The state will continue to support our local health departments and hospitals to get shots in arms faster,” said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D. “These partners were selected because they were able to rapidly increase the number of vaccines they could deliver as part of this effort.”

While the goal of the event is to get the vaccine out to more people, Western North Carolina residents are once again left behind. Based on the counties named to be partnering with the state, Buncombe County is the furthest county west to be included. 

To date, Buncombe County has administered 5,648 vaccines for a county population of just over 263,000. In comparison, the counties west of Buncombe — Haywood, Transylvania, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, Graham, and Cherokee Counties have a similar population — about 240,500, yet have only given out 3,319 vaccines total for all counties, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services data. 

Resources in rural counties are scarce compared to Urban counties like Buncombe, however, the state has not provided additional support during COVID19. Governor Roy Cooper deployed members of the National Guard to aid in vaccine distribution and testing, however, those limited members were sent to the Eastern part of the state. 

While Western North Carolina has considerably lower vaccination delivery than other portions of the state, WNC is also seeing a surge in COVID19 cases with local hospitals reporting being at over 80% capacity. 

While the state is providing assistance to urban areas, local governments are looking at their already strained budgets to provide additional resources for health departments. The Macon County Board of Commissioners approved emergency funding earlier this week to provide overtime pay for nursing staff at the health department in order to be able to extend the department’s hours of operation to increase vaccine distribution and testing. The need to provide exiting staff with overtime was imperative because attempts to hire additional staff, four nurse positions specifically, have not been successful thus far in the pandemic. 

Partners for the state vaccine event were selected based on their ability to administer a large number of vaccine doses or to provide access to vaccine doses to marginalized communities. Despite HCA being one of the largest hospital systems in the state, no HCA affiliates — such as Angel Hospital in Franklin—are not included in the state partnership. 

NC Emergency Management and the National Guard are also providing support in some locations. Vaccine events will be held in the following counties: 

Bertie County: Bertie County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Buncombe County: Buncombe County Health Department in partnership with Western North Carolina Community Health Services, and Western Carolina Medical Society 

Cabarrus County: Atrium Health

Camden County: Camden County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Chatham County: UNC Health 

Chowan County: Chowan County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Currituck County: Currituck County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Durham County: Duke Health 

Forsyth County: Forsyth County Department of Public Health 

Gates County: Gates County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Guilford County: Cone Health 

Henderson County: Blue Ridge Community Health Services, Henderson County Department of Public Health, Mountain Area Health Education Center, Pardee Hospital (UNC Health)

Hertford County: Hertford County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Johnston County: UNC Health 

Madison County: Hot Springs Health Center, Madison County Health Department, Mountain Area Health Education Center 

Mecklenburg County: Atrium Health 

Orange County: UNC Health 

Pasquotank County: Pasquotank County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Perquimans County: Perquimans County Health Department (Albemarle Regional Health Services)

Pitt County: Vidant Health 

Wake County: UNC REX Healthcare, Duke Raleigh Hospital, and WakeMed in partnership with community-based physician practices, Advance Community Health, NeighborHealth and others.

Some locations are providing the vaccine by appointment only. To learn more about the events, visit the websites of the providers listed above. Their websites can be found, listed by county, at covid19.ncdhhs.gov/findyourspot.     

The COVID-19 vaccine is available per the state’s rollout plan and free of charge, regardless of access to health insurance or legal status. As the vaccine rollout moves to next phases, those within earlier prioritization groups will remain eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Vaccine  supplies are very limited, and most people will have to wait, even if you are in one of the early phases. Many North Carolinians want to understand more about the vaccines. NCDHHS launched a new campaign, “You have a spot. Take your shot.” to provide all North Carolinians with honest information about COVID-19 vaccine development, testing, safety, side-effects and reactions. Information, including a searchable list of participating health departments and hospitals, is available at YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov. 

The vaccine prioritization is designed to save lives and prevent spread while vaccine supplies are limited. Everyone has a spot, and you can find yours at YourSpotYourShot.nc.gov.  

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