North Carolina To Vaccinate Medically Vulnerable Starting March 24

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced Tuesday that the state will more quickly open up COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to those who are frontline essential workers or have serious underlying health issues.

The state had been set to allow a broad group of workers ranging from mail carriers to elected officials to begin receiving vaccines March 10. But with approval of a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and more than 80,000 doses arriving soon, public health officials will now allow frontline workers to get vaccinated starting Wednesday — a week earlier than anticipated.

Meanwhile, North Carolinians under 65 with high-risk medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe illness if they become infected with the virus, will become eligible March 24.

“We’ll open group 4 first to people with medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for severe risk to COVID-19 illness,” Cooper said. “The third vaccine and improving vaccine supply of the two we already are getting will help us get more people vaccinated more quickly.”

Medically vulnerable people have steadily been dropped toward the bottom of the prioritization schedule since the state unveiled its initial distribution plan in October 2020. After former President Donald Trump’s administration encouraged states to give greater preference to those who are at least 75 years old, North Carolina adjusted its plan and dropped people with chronic conditions down to Phase 2 in the distribution schedule. When the federal government again revised guidelines to include people 65 or older at the top of the list, younger adults with medical issues were pushed even further down the list to Phase 4.

The reprioritization prompted some complaints from advocates for the medically vulnerable. Initial guidance favored those with two or more chronic conditions, while the new guidance announced Tuesday allows anyone 16-64 years old with one chronic condition to get vaccinated starting March 24, though providers may decide not to open up appointments if demand remains high for earlier groups.

Under the state’s current guidance posted online, people can get a vaccine in about three weeks if they have at least one of 18 eligible conditions, ranging from cancer and cystic fibrosis to being overweight or a current or former smoker.

North Carolina is not the only state expanding vaccine eligibility to those with serious underlying health issues. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced Tuesday that his state would offer doses to medically vulnerable groups starting next Monday. People would be required to show proof confirming their high-risk medical condition. California has responded to frustrated residents by opening up vaccinations to disabled people and at-risk adults starting March 15.