By Michael Praats | January 27, 2021 at 1:14 PM EST – Updated January 28 at 12:06 AM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Residents hoping to get a COVID-19 vaccine have faced difficulties making appointments even if they are in the current group eligible to receive the shot. So, when news broke that New Hanover County commissioners were given the vaccine ahead of the rest of county residents, there were questions.
County commissioners were given the first doses of the vaccine on Jan. 13, according to WHQR, which was then confirmed by New Hanover County Spokeswoman Jessica Loeper. This, despite the fact that three of the five commissioners are not in the current group eligible to receive it. The current group includes health care workers as well as older adults, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
So how did elected officials manage to get the vaccine ahead of their time?
County officials said that the commissioners were given the vaccine due to the fact there were ‘extra doses’ at the end of the day, but with a shortage of vaccine nationwide, there were questions as to how there could be ‘extra’ doses.
There are several different reasons the health department might have extra doses while not having enough doses for all of the residents, according to the county.
“Often times, Public Health is able to get an extra dose from a vial (for instance, a 10-dose vial of Moderna often—but not always—produces 11 doses). So when that happens, or when a vial is opened but not all doses are used, it is important that the remaining doses be used within a few hours. The county opens vaccine appointments based on the standard doses received—but there are times when a small number of additional doses may be remaining. We also have times where we have no-shows for scheduled appointments and, prior to moving to the state’s new Group 2, we also set aside doses for healthcare walkups and there were times when those weren’t always fully taken (for reference, these healthcare workers weren’t required to make an appointment early on, but we do require that now, as of January 19),” Loeper said.
At the end of the day, when the health department is through with scheduled appointments, it is possible additional doses will remain.
“Public Health does not let a single dose go to waste and works to ensure any extra doses are given to people who are eligible and, in some cases depending on the situation, provides them to people who are willing and readily available. This process is directly in line with the guidance provided by NCDHHS,” Loeper said.
NHRMC Chief Physician Dr. Philip Brown confirmed this policy exists.
“There is a policy for every vaccination site of ‘no dose goes wasted’. So, if the math doesn’t work out because each vial contains at least five doses. Most contain six, some may even contain seven. So if those doses exist, there’s a commitment to get those doses into people’s arms,” Dr. Brown said.
County Manager Chris Coudriet approved the decision to vaccinate and when asked if the county commissioners were somehow exempt from the state guidelines that dictate who should receive the vaccine first, Loeper clarified they were not.
“They are not exempt, but because of their important role in securing the health and safety of the county’s residents and the need to ensure continuity of governance for the county—they were extended the offer to be vaccinated when additional doses were remaining at the end of the day,” she said.
Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman explained her decision to get the vaccine.
“Commissioners are leaders in this community, elected by our constituents to govern New Hanover County, and we were each vaccinated in our public duty capacity and not as private citizens. I certainly want to keep each person on the board as safe as possible, as they are asked to meet in person as a group and go out in the community to do the job the people elected us to do. The county is the lead entity in local vaccination efforts and it’s imperative that our board is healthy so we can make decisions and continue governing to keep our entire community healthy and safe. Those crucial decisions and actions are made as a full board, and not as individuals, so I believe it’s important for the full board, and not just a subset of the board, to be healthy and well,” she said.
“When budget amendments are needed to pay for our COVID-19 response or for vaccination efforts across the community, that is a full board decision. Or when actions are taken to ensure vaccines reach historically marginalized communities or vaccines are transferred to local partners, those are done under the oversight of the full board. Those decisions are incredibly important, and they require our full board to be involved. So when the vaccine was offered to us, we each were willing and eager to be vaccinated.”
County commissioners are not the only ones who have received the vaccine outside of their designated group, law enforcement members have also been vaccinated.
“There have been some law enforcement officers who received the vaccine ahead of their assigned group, because they were at a location when several doses were left from a vaccination site. Again, Public Health works to get those vaccines into the arms of people who are eligible, but there are times when a few doses are left over and the best and most efficient course of action is to provide them to people who are readily available and willing to receive the vaccine. We do not want a single dose to go to waste. In addition, Public Health vaccinated several law enforcement who supported security at the Presidential Inauguration,” Loeper said.
WECT reached out to county managers and public health officials in our four neighboring counties.
We’ve received word from officials in Brunswick, Columbus and Pender counties who say there have been no known instances of any elected officials receiving vaccines outside of those who qualify because of their age. We have not yet heard back from Bladen County.
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