All North Carolinians aged 65 and older are now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, a change that affects nearly a quarter of the population in Moore County.
The new criteria was announced just two days after the county began vaccinating residents age 75 and older under Phase 1B of the N.C. Department of Health and Humans Services’ four-stage inoculation plan. The expanded eligibility reflects the latest guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to the state.
But administering the vaccine to a bigger pool of older adults will be a difficult undertaking in Moore County, which is home to a large number of senior citizens.
People 65 and older made up about 24 percent of the county’s total population in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The same age group accounted for only 16 percent of the state’s population at the time.
“For us here in Moore, the expanded criteria now opens vaccine access up to nearly one in every four of our residents and that’s a number that far exceeds the current supply of vaccine that is available to us,” said Matt Garner, public information officer for the Moore County Health Department. “Because of that, we ask that everyone be patient as it may take several weeks to administer to everyone who is eligible.”
The health department is working with FirstHealth of the Carolinas to vaccinate eligible residents through an initiative called Operation FirstShot. Emily Sloan, director of public relations for FirstHealth, said that while the company is “excited that the state has expanded eligibility,” the limited availability of the vaccine remains a challenge.
“Moore Regional did not receive an allocation of vaccine from the state this week,” Sloan said in an email on Thursday. “As of right now, we have not been notified of an allocation for next week. We hope that changes, and we could receive notification at any time. With that being said, we can’t plan for additional vaccination clinics until we receive more vaccine.”
FirstHealth administered the first dose of the two-part vaccine to 1,000 patients of local primary care providers on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Fair Barn in Pinehurst. Sloan said the company plans to vaccinate an additional 800 patients during another pair of clinics next week.
“Future vaccination clinics and our ability to expand to other age groups are dependent on when we receive additional vaccine,” Sloan said.
The company is focusing its resources on established patients of FirstHealth, Pinehurst Medical Clinic and other providers based in Moore County. Eligible patients age 75 and older do not have to register for vaccination, and they will be contacted directly by their primary care provider when an appointment is available.
Alternatively, any resident who meets the state’s criteria can pre-register for vaccination through the health department. This option is designed mainly for individuals who do not have health insurance or whose primary care providers are based in other counties, but it is also available to eligible residents who don’t want to wait for a call from their local provider.
Pre-registration can be completed by visiting moorecountync.gov/shot or by calling (910) 947-7468. Individuals are allowed to complete the pre-registration process on behalf of their eligible friends and family members, according to the health department.
After a person is pre-registered, a representative from the health department will contact them to schedule an appointment. The health department is administering the vaccine on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at its building in the 700 block of Pinehurst Avenue in Carthage.
The health department said it will begin vaccinating residents under the expanded age criteria after it works through its list of individuals age 75 and older. Robert Wittmann, director of the department, is asking people to bear with the agency until then.
“The limiting factor continues to be vaccine supply,” Wittmann said in a statement. “Right now, we have more people who need vaccine than we have vaccine to give. We ask everyone to remain patient and understand that it may take some time to schedule and vaccinate everyone who is eligible.”
In addition to residents age 65 and older, Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers of any age and health care workers of any age, regardless of whether they work directly with COVID-19 patients. These residents are expected to be vaccinated following older adults in Moore County.