CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - North Carolina public health leaders are working to prioritize the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine to in-state residents.
Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said in a press conference Thursday morning that the health department has seen people from out of state sign up for appointments in Mecklenburg County.
“It’s been a big issue here as well as in other places,” Harris said.
A spokesperson for the Mecklenburg County Health Department said about 3.8 percent of the county’s COVID-19 vaccines have gone to people who are from out-of-state. Mecklenburg County has released a limited number of appointments each week due to a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine. Appointments have filled up quickly each time they become available.
Health officials in Gaston County say they, too, have seen many people from out of state registering for appointments in North Carolina. Gaston County officials say people registering for appointments from out-of-state are mostly from York County, S.C. which borders Gaston County. However, they have received requests from people who live several states away.
“You could have people that are out here that spend part of the year here, visiting family, traveling and just wanting to get their shots,” Gaston County Communications Director Adam Gaub said. “We’ve had situations where we’ve had people that have moved and got like a first shot somewhere and trying to get a second shot here.”
Both Gaston and Mecklenburg county leaders say they have tried to prioritize appointments for people who live or work in their respective counties. But, there is nothing stopping a person from traveling out of state for a vaccine appointment. Initial guidance from the CDC and NCDHHS granted eligibility based on prioritized groups, not on a person’s place of residence.
“We were very intentional on wanting to make sure that that the vaccine was going to Gaston County residents, but we also weren’t allowed to turn away people that were coming in from neighboring counties or even from out of state,” Gaub said.
Recently, the CDC issued new guidance that allows states to be more restrictive on people seeking the vaccine in a state they do not live or work in. A CDC spokesperson explained the new guidance in this statement:
“CDC included specific language in a term and condition in the Notice of Award for COVID-19 Funding issued in Cooperative Agreement IP10-1901 on 1/15/2021: ‘To achieve the public health objectives of ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all Americans, Recipient must distribute or administer vaccine without discriminating on non-public-health grounds within a prioritized group.’
“Based on the above language, it is CDC’s position that a state may decide that protecting the public health of its residents requires limiting vaccinations to state residents and not temporary travelers who do not reside in the state. This would be allowable under CDC’s grant terms as long as the policy is intended to promote public health aims, such as reaching priority populations and promoting equity. This action is also consistent with the allocation of vaccine, which is based on the adult population of each jurisdiction, as determined by the US Government COVID-19 Supply and Operations Planning process. Should a state decide that vaccinating additional individuals temporarily within its jurisdiction serves a broader public health purpose, it may make such a decision.”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says they shared the CDC’s new guidance with county governments and providers of the COVID-19 vaccine, giving them the option of strengthening restrictions. But county leaders in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties say it would be difficult to enforce.
“We’re not checking people’s ID, so it’s certainly possible for somebody to provide kind of bogus information, that’s the right information,” Gaub said. “You would hate to see that happen, but I’m sure it has happened not only here, but in other places as well.”
“This is a federal program with federal vaccine, and we cannot restrict it, but we do everything we can as we’re making appointments to make sure that we’re focusing on Mecklenburg County residents with the vaccine that we have,” Harris said.
Atrium Health and Novant Health have hosted several mass vaccination clinics at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bank of America Stadium, and the Spectrum Center. People who do not live in North Carolina scheduled appointments and received a shot at these events.
WBTV asked Governor Roy Cooper if that would be allowed to continue under this new guidance. Cooper said it will be up to providers to decide if they want to restrict out-of-state access to the clinics.
“Providers can tweak their guidance to make sure they focus more on North Carolinians,” Cooper said. “But … I don’t think we want to force people to not get a vaccine here as it is a federal asset.”
WBTV asked Atrium Health if it would continue offering the COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina to people who do not reside in the state. A spokesperson responded with the following statement:
“The mission of Atrium Health is to care for ALL. That mission is not only words, but it’s something our teammates live out every day, especially during a global pandemic. We will continue to provide the highest quality care our patients deserve and have come to expect from Atrium Health. Many of our patients do not reside in North Carolina, as we provide healthcare across communities in North and South Carolina, as well as Georgia. COVID-19 doesn’t recognize borders, and by vaccinating someone from a neighboring state, we are still working towards the end goal of getting everyone in our community vaccinated against COVID-19 and to end this deadly pandemic. We will continue to care for our patients and neighbors, while following all guidelines issued by the state.”
A spokesperson with Novant Health could not get WBTV an answer by today’s deadline.
Whether providers and local governments decide to restrict access to the vaccine to in-state residents only, many hope this is only a temporary problem as the Biden Administration has promised more doses of the vaccine to states.
“Hopefully, in a few weeks we’re going to have enough vaccine that we can basically just say anybody that’s that qualifies, that’s in the right group, that wants to get a shot, come out and get a shot. We’re just not there yet,” Gaub said.