What to know about the COVID-19 vaccine in NC

Buncombe County first responders receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine | Photo by @buncombecounty

This week, some counties in NC are entering Phase 1B of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, meaning that adults ages 75 and over, followed by frontline essential workers (i.e. first responders, teachers, manufacturing, corrections officers, public transit, grocery store employees, food + ag workers, and postal workers) will be eligible for vaccines. 

People eligible for vaccination in Phase 1A (healthcare workers and residents + staff at long-term care facilities) are also still receiving vaccines, and the state + Buncombe County are still officially in Phase 1A. Most counties should enter Phase 1B by Jan. 11. 

Today, we’re answering your questions about vaccine rollout + availability. Protip: For the most up-to-date info, check with the NC Department of Health and Human Services. The state is also launching a vaccine hotline today.

NC’s per capita rate of vaccination is one of the lowest in the country, but there’s also currently not enough vaccine to administer to everyone in Phase 1B. Future vaccine shipments will also be dependent on how many people are receiving it locally, meaning the greater the demand, the more supply NC will receive. Shipments arrive weekly from the federal government.  

While the vaccine rollout process so far has been criticized, the state is working hard to keep information flowing. Here’s the official word on when + how you might get vaccinated. 

  • NC’s rollout has four phases. In Phase 2, adults at high risk for exposure and at an increased risk of severe illness can get their shots. That means anyone 65+, people ages 16-64 who have underlying medical conditions (like cancer, serious heart conditions, or diabetes) that increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, anyone incarcerated or living in a group setting, and essential workers who have not yet gotten a vaccine.
  • Phase 3 opens the vaccine to college, university + high school students age 16+. The vaccine has not yet been approved for younger children. Teachers are included in Phase 1B.
  • Phase 4 opens the vaccine to the general population. According to state officials, Phase 4 is several months away.
  • If you’re currently eligible for a vaccine, you must have an appointment, no matter what county you live in. Your healthcare provider can help you make an appointment, and county health departments are working to do this as well. The NC National Guard will also be helping with vaccination.
  • The vaccine is free, regardless of whether or not you have health insurance.
  • As of Tues., 2,428 initial vaccine doses have been given in Buncombe County (the count is updated once weekly here).

Have questions about the vaccine itself? Here’s what you need to know

  • Over 70,000 people participated in clinical trials for the vaccines currently available in NC – made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
  • You cannot contract COVID-19 from the vaccines, which are 95% effective. Both are given in two doses, between three and four weeks apart.
  • The vaccine itself works through the novel mRNA delivery system, which scientists have been researching for years. While most vaccines work by delivering a weakened or inactivated germ for our bodies to fight off through the production of antibodies, the mRNA vaccine actually instructs cells to make the spike protein found on the surface of COVID-19. Those instructions are destroyed once the protein has been created, so they do not remain in our cells. Our bodies recognize the spike protein as foreign and create the antibodies that will get rid of it – so when the real spike protein arrives, a defense mechanism is already in place. DYK: mRNA never enters a cell’s nucleus, where DNA is stored, so there is no interaction between mRNA and DNA.
  • The vaccine is given in the upper arm. Side effects include soreness at the injection site, headache, and feeling tired + achy, and more have been reported after the second dose. No serious side effects were reported during clinical trials. Experiencing mild side effects from a vaccine is normal. If side effects are severe or last more than 48 hours, contact your medical provider. Serious side effects were reported at less than .5% during testing phases in both the groups who received actual vaccines and groups who received a placebo
  • You can still contract COVID-19 between your two doses, meaning you should still wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands frequently. Even after you receive both doses, healthcare officials say to keep following these guidelines until the pandemic is under control. The vaccine takes up to six weeks to be effective.

While the vaccine is not currently mandated, states and private employers can decide to require it.