CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wednesday was a big day in North Carolina as anyone 16 or older is now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination. This is a huge step in reopening the state and getting coronavirus infections down.
Vaccine providers have been working around the clock and so far, more than 5 million shots have been given in the state.
Four months ago, when the first shipments of vaccine arrived in the state, experts didn't think eligibility would be opened to everyone so quickly. Gov. Roy Cooper said vaccines are going out faster than they anticipated, and it's obvious inside of the vaccine clinics in the Charlotte area.
Since Novant Health opened its east Charlotte clinic in early February, they’ve given more than 35,000 shots there. Shots that give people what they've waited so long for: protection and some freedom.
“Church services, I've been holding off on, so they said in two weeks I’d be considered fully vaccinated so at that time I’m looking forward to returning,” Lauren Williams said.
The clinic runs like a well-oiled machine. 2,500 people a day check-in and typically don't even have to wait before a volunteer helps them to a vaccination room.
The on-site pharmacy is buzzing. The workers there constantly drawing vaccine and counting doses to stay on track.
"Our pharmacists look at our schedule broken down by every hour so we know approximately how many patients we have coming into the building,” Anna Sinclair, operations manager for Novant Health said. “We make sure we are saying slightly ahead of that but not too far ahead of that because of course, we have time constraints on how long a product can be in a syringe."
When there are extras, they work with scheduling to call people in from waitlists or open last-minute appointments. The final stop, the observation area, is one of the happiest in the building, now open to anyone 16 and older in the state.
“When you walk down the hallways and hear patients say, 'thank you so much, I’m going to be able to see my grandchildren. Thank you so much I’ve been scared to go to the grocery store.' We hear those comments all the time and it’s so great to be here and be helping people get back to normal,” Sinclair said.
Fast and fair has been the motto the entire time, and the state is getting national recognition for distributing vaccines to marginalized communities.
“I've actually had two family members pass with it. So, I was doubly amping up to my process to get on and thank god I did get one, I feel a whole lot better,” Amzie Gray said.
Supply is growing and more appointments are becoming available, but hesitancy is common, especially in historically marginalized communities.
“I wasn't going to get it at first,” Narita White, who almost didn’t go to her appointment, said. “I didn't know nothing about it, it was too new for me.”
Mecklenburg County vaccine providers are working to give people the information they need while ensuring the shots are accessible to everyone.
“We've been asked to focus in on those yellow areas that are high priority areas that have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 as well as other social and economic determinants of health,” Dr. Raynard Washington, the deputy health director, said.
The county has boots on the ground. 20 community clinics throughout the county to make it easier for those who can't, or won't, go to a mass clinic. There’s still some inequity in distribution but they're making progress and closing gaps.
“We got a ways to go, those gaps could get wider or smaller. We have to stay focused which is why we turned our focus completely to the community to make sure we're getting to those harder to reach communities,” Washington said.
The county is working on solutions making plans to go door to door and have conversations with people who are hesitant. The CDC also chipping in some $94 million to help increase access to vaccine in underserved areas in the state.
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.