By Brieanne Lyda-McDonald
Vaccines for COVID-19 have provided the United States with a light at the end of the tunnel that has been the coronavirus pandemic. Since mid-December, over four million North Carolinians have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Almost 37% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated. That includes nearly 47% of adults age 18 and older and nearly 76% of adults age 65 and older. However, vaccine rates vary by racial/ethnic group and geography. Black/African American individuals make up 23% of the state’s population but only 17% of those who are fully vaccinated, and Hispanic individuals make up 10% of the state’s population but only 6% of those fully vaccinated. Across counties, rates of full vaccination range from a high of 54% in Dare County to a low of 17% in Hoke County.1 There are a variety of contributing factors to these disparities.
Since September 2020, the NCIOM has convened the North Carolina COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee is comprised of stakeholders including public health experts, health care providers, advocacy organization leaders, and representatives of essential workers and at-risk populations. The work of the Advisory Committee has evolved from providing feedback to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) on the development of its vaccine prioritization plan through the early part of 2021 to supporting successful implementation of the plan and vaccination efforts into Spring 2021. More information on the state's process for developing its vaccine prioritization plan is available in this article published in the March/April issue of the North Carolina Medical Journal.
The Advisory Committee has held equity of vaccine access and distribution as a key priority in its advisory role. For its part, NCDHHS has worked with community partners across the state to increase access and has seen successes in decreasing disparities; however, disparities across racial/ethnic groups and geography persist. In part, this is due to continued gaps in knowledge or misinformation within some communities. Access issues still are a contributing factor in rural parts of the state and for people who may not be able to take time away from work or family responsibilities to get vaccinated. NCDHHS developed a map to identify areas of the state by their level of social vulnerability, vaccination rates, and availability of vaccine providers.
The ongoing efforts of the Advisory Committee will be to share information within this stakeholder group and with NCDHHS about strategies to continue vaccine access and acceptance. With the Food and Drug Administration authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for use in youth age 12-15 on May 10, the Advisory Committee will also consider and share information about best practices for outreach to parents and youth. After authorization, 12–17-year-olds have made up 37%-39% of individuals vaccinated between the weeks of May 10 and May 17.