North Carolina will continue Phase 1a of the four phases designed to distribute vaccinations to the state’s population.

As the two COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, continue to become available to the country’s population, healthcare workers remain among the first groups to receive the vaccine under Phase 1a of the four phases created to vaccinate North Carolina’s population.

In an information guide, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) said although the vaccines are limited at first, they will become available to everyone on a priority basis. In a media release, Vidant Health said it has vaccinated more than 5,300 team members and providers as of Jan. 7, some of which received their second doses this week. Vidant continues to receive weekly shipments of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines allocated by the NC DHHS.

Interim Chair for the department of Public Health at the Brody School of Medicine Ruth Little said the grave concern at the moment is to distribute the vaccine to people who work in direct medical contact with COVID-19 patients. She said Phase 1a of COVID-19 vaccinations prioritizes these workers, and North Carolina will move through phases as supplies become more available.

“In Phase 1a, if you’re having to prioritize when the vaccine becomes available, then the first people who need it are those who are treating or are exposed to people with COVID(-19), and so then it depends on the supply chain but there has to be some priority that if I’m a clinician taking care of COVID(-19) patients I am the one that needs it first,” Little said.

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to become available to more people based on priority, Little said people should remain knowledgeable about the vaccinations through information released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local sources such as the NC DHHS. She said misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine and potential side effects has played a role in people’s decision to get vaccinated.

Anyone interested in the COVID-19 vaccine should speak with their physicians to assess their risk of exposure to COVID-19, according to Little. She said the pros and cons of vaccination should be weighed for someone who may have apprehensions about the vaccine, but to understand that with any vaccine there is the potential of a reaction.

Little said COVID-19 has been around now for a while, but people should remain mindful of the important ways to protect themselves from COVID-19. She said professionals are doing their best to prioritize who gets the vaccine first and health departments are doing their best to respond rapidly and comprehensively.

“We need to social distance, wear your mask and follow all the CDC fundamental guidelines on handwashing and sanitation to reduce the opportunity,” Little said.

Dean of the Brody School of Medicine Mark Allen said he received his COVID-19 vaccine to protect himself and his family, but he had apprehensions because he knew there were people who may have needed it more than him. Allen said he did not have a strong reaction to the first shot, out of the booster dose, but he expects a higher immune response from the second shot.

The Brody School of Medicine is focused on the ethics of vaccine delivery to underserved populations, Allen said. He said he worries about those who don’t have the means to receive the vaccine in the way he did. He said the goal is to find a way to provide the most population immunization with the fewest number of vaccines.

Allen said you can vaccinate some people in a community to protect other people who may not want to get the vaccine on the first round. He said if you can vaccinate healthy people who are around people who have risk of exposure, the healthy vaccinated people will be less likely to bring illness into a home.

“One of the reasons that I worry about me receiving the vaccine is because I am not in a medically underserved environment,” Allen said. “I have medical insurance, I have medical care and so for me to be first in line doesn’t align with the ethics of who needs this vaccine the most.”

Chief of Medicine at Vidant Health Care Paul Bolin said himself alongside others at Brody School of Medicine continue to work to provide vaccinations to the eastern North Carolina region through vaccine clinics. He said the group was approached by the Pitt County Health Department to help in vaccinations and are in the process to begin by the end of this week or the week of Jan. 11.

Bolin said the populations in eastern North Carolina who do not receive access to healthcare carry higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions. He said he believes the higher the number of vaccinations, the better the outlook of COVID-19 in the spring.

Vaccination is imperative to a return to society and is the absolute most important step, according to Bolin. He said the next few months will have many variables associated with COVID-19 as the availability of vaccination increases and students at East Carolina University and public schools return back to school.

“The focus is that the vaccination has become so pivotal in our short term success, that we’re really going to push to help in that area,” Bolin said.

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