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Some medically vulnerable North Carolinians eligible for additional COVID vaccine dose

By Bryan Anderson, Associated Press/Report for America

North Carolina health officials said Monday that medically vulnerable residents with certain health conditions can get an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine, though some have already had a third Pfizer or Moderna shot after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it last week.

The FDA signed off on the additional dose after emerging data suggested people with moderately to severely compromised immune systems do not necessarily build the same level of immunity as others who are not immunocompromised.

Maura Wozniak, a 43-year-old Charlotte-area resident with cystic fibrosis, said she didn’t develop any antibodies after receiving the first two Pfizer doses. After speaking with her pharmacist shortly after the FDA approved the additional shot, she got a third Pfizer dose Saturday in Huntersville.

She hopes the third shot will give her more protection, especially against the more contagious delta variant. If nothing else, she said she’ll feel less anxious about the pandemic.

“I’m hopeful that I do get some antibodies from it,” Wozniak said. “Psychologically, it’s going to help a lot.”

The stay-at-home mother is excited to have her two 12-year-old kids return to school this month masked and in-person. But because she remains medically vulnerable and feels unsafe, she and her family will continue wearing masks indoors. Wozniak said she also has decided not to pursue as many school volunteer opportunities as she had hoped.

When she got the vaccine in March after months of waiting because the state had prioritized healthy people in older age groups over younger people like her with chronic conditions, she never imagined transmission of the virus would be as severe as it is today.

“Did I ever think in a million years we’d still be in this spot with school starting up? No, not at all,” she said.

Data from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the share of tests coming back positive at their worst levels in more than six months.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which is where Wozniak’s kids will return this month, is one of several public school systems heeding the advice of health experts to require students to wear masks inside classrooms. Starting Wednesday, the city of Charlotte and unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County will impose an indoor mask mandate.

“We need more people in our community to get vaccinated, which is the best way for us to get back to normal for the long-term,” Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said in a statement Monday. “Unless we do better on getting shots in arms, this won’t be the last time we have to mandate masks or other measures.”

Lack of demand for vaccines has contributed to tens of thousands of doses being thrown out.

Since the beginning of vaccine distribution in December 2020, North Carolina has received more than 7.6 million doses among state providers, which excludes federal pharmacy program partners like Walgreens and CVS. Data the state health department shared with The Associated Press on Monday show more than 250,000 of the 7.6 million doses, or 3%, were unusable for any number of reasons, including nearly 52,000 expired shots, as of Aug. 2.

Despite the worsening metrics and wasted doses, North Carolinians have recently gotten vaccinated in greater numbers amid delta variant fears, employer vaccine mandates and stronger financial incentives for receiving a first dose.

More than 3 in 5 residents eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine because they are at least 12 years old have gotten at least one shot. Immunocompromised North Carolinians who are 12 and older can get a third Pfizer vaccine, while adults 18 and older qualify for an extra Moderna shot.

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