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County health departments working to speed up vaccinations

How many appointments officials can schedule depends on the allotment of the COVID-19 vaccine they receive each week. That number isn't always consistent.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Federal and state officials continue to push for local county health departments and hospital systems to speed up the vaccination process.

Vaccination is the top priority right now and there is a need for speed.

"It's the number one priority of the state of North Carolina to get vaccines administered to people as quickly and equitably as possible,” Governor Roy Cooper said on Tuesday.

Lives are on the line as COVID-19 spreads rapidly and the vaccine is one tool to slow it down.

“We know it is the way we're going to beat back this pandemic,” said Doctor Mandy Cohen, health secretary for the state.

But who gets how much and when is proving to be a challenge.

RELATED: Where to receive your coronavirus vaccine in the Carolinas

“The whole issue of allocation is very complicated,” said Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County Health Director.

Harris said the county is getting through its allocation as quickly as possible, booking hundreds of appointments a day at Bojangles' Coliseum.

“As of the end of the Monday, we had given almost 100% of the vaccine given to us,” she said.

The health department received 1,950 more doses of vaccine Tuesday. For now, it's still giving them to frontline hospital workers and people 75 and older. The county is waiting on guidance from the state on if prioritizations will change.

Tuesday, the CDC recommended anyone 65 and older or with a preexisting condition get vaccinated. They also suggested states release second doses. Previously, they had been holding on to the second doses and shipping them out to the providers three or four weeks later, depending on if it is the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

“The change in the recommendation yesterday is simply that currently, the federal government has enough confidence in the current manufacturing levels of the two approved vaccines,” said Dr. Meg Sullivan with the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

RELATED: SC public health hiring hundreds to administer COVID-19 vaccine

State officials first prioritized getting all 100 counties some vaccine but now will give more doses to counties or hospitals vaccinating more people, faster.

Atrium Health is one of 10 sites getting a larger shipment this week.

“By not allocating certain folks’ additional vaccine while they used up their backlog, we were able to accumulate enough to put through high throughput sites,” said Cohen. 

Those 10 sites are expected to give more than 45,000 vaccinations this week.

In Rowan County, where an appointment is not required, they vaccinated 150 people per hour on Monday. But their weekly allotments are inconsistent.

“Last week we had quite a few less what we had wanted. We've got some more this week and I have requested some additional vaccines too,” said Nina Oliver, the public health director.

RELATED: Health officials try to avoid wasting leftover COVID-19 doses before they expire

Rowan County health officials will give out all 600 doses they received at a clinic on Thursday. Oliver asking the state for more doses because demand has been so high.

“We have been placed on a list, which is good, for counties that can't provide all of their doses or don’t want to accept all of their doses, we will be the recipients of those doses,” said Oliver.

Another burden on local health departments that seems to be slowing down the process is logging a lot of information about who gets vaccinated in a state system. 

Gibbie Harris said it’s been challenging but if they don't keep up with it, it will affect future allotments. Mecklenburg County has hired more staff just to handle inputting that data.