Transylvania County leadership is astonished by Governor Cooper’s press conference on Tuesday announcing that North Carolina will begin opening vaccines in Group 3. While only a subset of Group 3 to include teachers and child-care workers have been authorized for the February 24 date, the data does not reflect that the State of North Carolina, including Transylvania County, have had sufficient supply of vaccine to be able to reach the most vulnerable citizens, those over the age of 65. The State announcement also indicated March 12 as a date that additional Group 3 will be eligible.
“Our county values our elder population and is committed to delivering vaccines as quickly as possible given the limited supply. We have been advocating at the state level for more allocation during Stage 2 and the numbers do not reflect that we are at a point that we can add to the numbers eligible to receive the vaccine when we are not seeing increases in supply. To choose otherwise would make it harder for those trying to get appointments now to be successful,” Transylvania County Commission Chairman Jason Chappell said.
With this news also came the guidance that counties may elect not to move out of Stage 2 vaccinations. Transylvania County is not accepting appointments for any Stage 3 individuals at this time. Transylvania County has a ratio of seniors tied with three other counties to have the highest population ratio of people age 65 and over.
“Our county is home to over 10,000 people over the age of 65 and our weekly base allocation is 200 doses to our public health department. We are fortunate that we will see a bump of an additional 300 doses the week of February 15, but we will not make headway with Group 2 unless we continue to see that increase in allocation. The science shows that the 65 and over are at a higher risk of complication and death due to Covid 19. Our seniors must remain our top priority at this time for vaccine distribution as they remain the most at risk according to the epidemiology data,” Public Health Director Elaine Russell said.
At the federal and state level, vaccination allotments are being based on total population despite the CDC guidance emphasizing that those over 65 should be vaccinated first. This allocation model and limited vaccine supply means that Transylvania County has not yet reached 15% of the Stage 2 over 65 population. NCDHHS has also indicated that they may be modifying the base allocation to counties in the coming weeks, but county leaders remain adamant that the allocation strategy needs to reflect the distribution of those over 65 instead of total population. Current base allocation in Transylvania County will take over 30 weeks to serve Stage 2.
Transylvania County leaders are most concerned about how increasing the demand for vaccine by moving to Group 3 will be most harmful to Transylvania County seniors trying to get vaccinated in Group 2. Many have isolated waiting for their vaccine and an even longer wait puts their health at risk to both COVID with higher rates of complication and death for their age group and to the toll of mental health due to isolation.
Should NCDHHS further change their policy or allocate vaccine under specific service parameters that require vaccination in Group 3, Transylvania County leaders plan to revisit whether to serve in Phase 3.