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Some NC counties open Group 4 vaccine appointments early

Nearly 3 million people will become eligible for the vaccine as part of Group 4 in North Carolina. Some clinics are opening appointments early to speed things up.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pharmacies and vaccine clinics across North Carolina are preparing for the state to open vaccination appointments for millions of people as part of Group 4

Starting Wednesday, March 17, members of Group 4 can schedule their appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine. Group 4 includes people with pre-existing medical conditions that put them at risk for serious illness from COVID-19. Some of these conditions include asthma, diabetes, and obesity. It also includes essential workers, such as retail employees and utility workers, not previously vaccinated. 

"To be one of the last ones with a chronic disease isn't great," Taylor West said. 

West has Type 1 Diabetes. It puts him at a higher risk of getting really sick from the coronavirus.

"There's already a natural mental burden I think on folks with diabetes just due to the nature of a lot of decisions we have to make during the day on managing our blood sugars," he said. "Then you add COVID on top of that and I think it's caused even more stress."

Even though he, and others in Group 4, will be able to roll up their sleeves on Wednesday, West hasn't been able to get an appointment earlier than mid-April. It's a problem most people will be facing until the supply grows.

"It's going to be exciting for more groups to be in (the) window to get vaccinated and they're going to be frustrated at the limited number of appointments," said Nikki Nissen with Novant Health. 

There are still people in Groups 1, 2 and 3 still waiting.

"Our appointments that are out into early May we have about 25,000 patients that are in group 1 and 2 that are still waiting for those appointments," Nissen said.

With short supply, getting an appointment takes some luck, even with more pharmacies offering the shots.

Tuesday morning, there were some appointments available through StarMed and the Mecklenburg County Health Department, but hours later they were booked up.

Atrium Health is now placing people in a virtual line, limiting the number who can make an appointment at once. Patience is key, it took 15 minutes to get from 128th to 84th in line.

"Everyone is dependent on the amount of vaccine they get from the state and the state is dependent on what they get from the government but all signs are that supply will only continue to improve," Dr. Katie Passaretti with Atrium Health said. "So I think the anticipation is that we will continue to move quickly and offer vaccines to more and more people."

To get a head start on things, some counties are opening appointments Wednesday, including Cabarrus and Rowan.

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RELATED: Find out what vaccine group you're in

Rowan County will accept appointments for a Wednesday evening clinic at the West End Plaza in Salisbury. In Cleveland County, appointments can be made by calling the county's COVID-19 hotline at 980-484-6019.

Mecklenburg County health officials said Group 4 vaccination appointments will open up once supplies are available. 

Pharmacies across the Charlotte region are also stepping up to help speed up the vaccine process. This weekend, Moose Pharmacy will host drive-thru clinics for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in both Cabarrus and Stanly counties. 

RELATED: NC dentist looking forward to volunteer at vaccine clinics, saying we'll get out of pandemic 'if everyone works together'

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.

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