Photo courtesy of Novant Health

Firefighters, law enforcement officers, teachers, grocery store employees, clergy, public transit workers and other “essential” workers in Group 3 will be able to get vaccinated in North Carolina against Covid-19 starting March 3, Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Tuesday. 

With 80,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine set to arrive in North Carolina this week, the state’s vaccine supply continues to expand.

In mid-February, Cooper allowed a small group of people in Group 3 — including child care workers and Pre-K-12 teachers and school staff — to get vaccinated early. He said at the time that the remaining Group 3 members would be eligible starting March 10. Now that date has been moved up.

“Our essential frontline workers have remained on the job throughout this pandemic, and I am grateful for their work,” Cooper said. 

Cooper also announced that members of Group 4, which includes people age 16-64 with medical conditions that make them at higher risk for severe Covid-19 illness, will be eligible for vaccinations starting March 24. 

In Mecklenburg County, health officials said they expect this week to get about 11,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one shot. It also requires no refrigeration.

In contrast, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which before Saturday were the only ones approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, requires two shots for patients to get maximum protection, and both must be stored in refrigerators at extremely low temperatures.

“Now we have three vaccines that we can depend on,” Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris said Tuesday.

Harris said she believes Cooper may have moved up the vaccination date for Group 3 because some of North Carolina’s smaller counties were given relatively large supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and already have worked through the first two groups. 

Not so in Mecklenburg County, where an estimated 6,000 people remain on the county’s waiting list. The county’s next available appointments, Harris said, are from March 10 through 31.

Dr. David Priest, an infectious disease specialist with Novant Health, said limited supply will continue to be a problem, even with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine coming on line. He said Novant currently does not have enough vaccine doses to accommodate everyone who qualifies, especially in Group 3. 

Meanwhile, appointments at Atrium Health’s standing sites are booked until June, Gary Little, Atrium’s chief medical officer, said Tuesday. He said people looking to get vaccinated also might schedule appointments at Atrium’s pop-up events.

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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