COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Update

Two vaccines are now authorized and recommended to prevent COVID-19 in the United States. Other COVID-19 vaccine candidates are in development, and clinical trials are being conducted at the same time as large-scale manufacturing. However, this takes time. Each state has its own plan to prioritize, distribute, and allocate the vaccine. Here's what you need to know about COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

As of now, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan has been delegated to the state, county, and in some cases, to municipal health departments in each state. These “jurisdictions” make the priority list as to the order different population groups receive the shots (based largely on CDC guidance).  Then, they contract with entities to provide the immunization shots.  Worksite health clinics are currently not part of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution and immunization program.  If they are eventually allowed to participate, their eligibility would need to be determined by each jurisdiction in which they operate.

What's Going on In North Carolina?

Currently in North Carolina, vaccines are going exclusively to hospitals and to local health departments to vaccinate health care workers and those 65 and older.  Soon the rollout will include long-term care residents and staff at their facilities.  Only Phase 1a populations and a portion of Phase 1b populations are currently being vaccinated in North Carolina.  Once the vaccine supply increases, according to NCDHHS, the state plans to expand its vaccination network to include primary and specialty care providers, pharmacies, providers serving incarcerated populations, mobile vaccination providers, occupational health providers and others.

Speeding Up Distribution

In the past few days, the federal government announced a plan to speed up distribution of COVID-19 vaccine that would push out vaccine that has been held in reserve as the “second dose”.  But, due to problems at the state and local levels with understaffed hospitals and public health departments, the added vaccines will not impact the rate of vaccinations right away.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “part of the concern, the health and hospital officials said, is whether hospitals and local health departments already strained by Covid-19 surges and the vaccine rollout can handle vaccinating a larger group of people earlier than expected.” 

The federal government’s sudden announcement of new guidance encourages states to expand the vaccine eligibility to people 65 or older, and to those with pre-existing health conditions (a group that most states didn’t expect to vaccinate until later in the process).  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 110 million people ages 16 years to 64 have high-risk medical conditions, and about 53 million people are ages 65 and older.”

The goal is for everyone to be able to easily get a COVID-19 vaccine when large quantities are available for distribution. As more vaccines are authorized for use in the United States and the supply of vaccines increases, several thousand vaccination locations will be available, such as doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers.

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