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Q&A: North Carolina Opens COVID-19 Vaccines To All Adults


Updated April 19 at 12:20 p.m.

As of April 7, all North Carolinians age 16 or older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. This open eligibility comes at a tenuous point in the pandemic. Nationwide, new cases are rising in states with similar populations to North Carolina. While this state's numbers are stable, experts are warning there could still be a new surge of cases.

WUNC reporter Will Michaels and digital producer Laura Pellicer cover common questions about this latest phase of vaccinations in North Carolina. 

How many people in the state have received their shots and where does North Carolina rank nationwide?

We have about 31% of the population that's received at least one vaccine, according to CDC data. The US average is about 33% of the population with at least one vaccine, so we are hovering right below the middle of the pack for that metric.

How do different counties compare when it comes to vaccine distribution?

Because this is a decentralized process, the vaccine rollout distribution varies pretty widely for different reasons. Looking at Orange County, for instance, they are above the average, approaching 40% at least partially vaccinated. Rural Hyde County is at more than 40%. Hyde County only has a little more than 5,000 people, but their strategy was a bit different. For example, the superintendent of public schools coordinated with the local health department to get teachers from Ocracoke Island over to the mainland in groups to get vaccinated.

And then you look at a county like Johnston, which is at just a little more than 20%, way behind the state average.

So location matters, vaccine hesitancy matters, proximity to mass vaccination sites matters. And remember that vaccine distribution from the state is based at least in part on local providers' ability to get vaccines out quickly. If they get an allocation that they don't use up in the week, they won't get quite as much the next week. But if they show that they are able to get the vaccine out quickly, they'll get a little bit more as the weeks go on.

When will the state be fully vaccinated, and when can we fully reopen?

We have seen other states like California that have started to put a date on it. They plan to reopen June 15. But one of the big reasons why it's hard to pinpoint an exact date is because of vaccine hesitancy. We have certain groups, certain demographics, who are wary of the vaccine.

A new report from the Associated Press highlights a March poll run by Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs that found 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they likely won't get vaccinated compared with about 25% of all Americans. This is just one of many groups who have some vaccine hesitancy.

Governor Cooper has said in a public briefing a couple of weeks ago, that the state would consider implementing some kind of incentive for vaccinations should supply exceed demand. And he has said that the state will release some forecasts soon for what this summer may look like. So essentially, folks just have to wait for more announcements from the state government. But they should be coming relatively soon.

How are we supposed to behave and how do we operate safely in this semi-vaccinated society?

As people start to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it may be hard to stay vigilant, and that's understandable. But the CDC says fully vaccinated people, that means people who have gotten their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines at least two weeks ago or the Johnson & Johnson single dose at least two weeks ago, can travel more freely now. They can visit with other fully vaccinated people without a mask.

But the caveat here is fully vaccinated. And only about 20% of North Carolinians are fully vaccinated at this point.

Can you choose which vaccine to receive? How do you find out where the different types of vaccines are being distributed?

It depends on which provider you’re asking. For example, a county health department in a more rural area might be getting the Moderna vaccine rather than the Pfizer vaccine because of how complicated it is to store in ultra-cold temperatures.

Larger vaccination sites might have numerous types of vaccines available, but it depends on which day you’re trying to make an appointment. If more than one is available on a given day, you will get to choose. The state health department is encouraging people to get whatever is available to them.

Is the 2nd vaccination the same dose as the first?

The quick answer is yes. For the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (both two-dose vaccines) the second dose is the same type of vaccine and the same amount of vaccine as the first dose.

This doesn’t mean you’ll experience the same symptoms both times. Generally, folks will experience more elevated symptoms after the second dose.

Dr. Melanie Swift, the co-chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation and Distribution Work Group at the Mayo Clinic, explains the body's reaction in a post on the Mayo Clinic website. Here's an excerpt.

"When you take two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, the first dose is the first time for your body to see the spike protein that the COVID-19 vaccines produce, and your body begins to develop an immune response. But that happens slowly. Then when you come back with a second dose, your body is ready to attack it. Your body is primed by that first dose of vaccine. The second vaccine dose goes into your body, starts to make that spike protein, and your antibodies jump on it and rev up your immune system response. It's kind of like they've studied for the test. And it's acing the test."

The CDC does say that in “exceptional situations,” a different mRNA COVID-19 vaccine product may be administered at least 28 days after the first dose.

Want to know more about how the vaccine rollout is playing out in the state? You can reach us directly through this form: 


Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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