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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper receives COVID-19 vaccine

By Bryan Anderson
Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper received a COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday as the state expands eligibility this week with the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The 63-year-old Democratic governor who has long said he’d wait until it was his turn in line to get vaccinated got his first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the WakeMed Raleigh Campus. He was able to get the vaccine Wednesday after he updated state distribution guidance a day earlier to make eligible all frontline essential workers not yet vaccinated, including elected officials.

Meanwhile, those younger than 65 who suffer from any of 18 conditions that increase or may increase their risk for severe COVID-19 illness can receive shots starting March 24.

The broad cohort of frontline workers ranging from mail carriers to college professors was previously scheduled to begin getting vaccinated March 10, but with a third vaccine approved and 83,700 Johnson & Johnson single-shot doses coming to North Carolina this week, Cooper moved the group up by a week. He told reporters Tuesday that he’d be “happy to get any vaccine right now.”

He hopes his getting vaccinated will encourage others to do so as well.

“I wanted to come out on the first day that we opened to essential workers to send a signal to them how much I appreciate them but also to encourage them to take a shot,” Cooper said at the clinic.

Cooper said he was not aware which doses were available at the clinic before he walked in. Upon arrival, he said he learned Pfizer doses were the only ones available at the time of his shot. “I didn’t even know which one they had here. My understanding was they only had Pfizer here, so that’s what I got.”

The governor decided to get his vaccine after a handful of fellow state leaders across the country received their doses. Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, 69, got his shot on Dec. 14. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a 70-year-old Republican, received his first dose Jan. 18. Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, was vaccinated on Feb. 2 after waiting his turn alongside other residents who are at least 70 years old.

Cooper and public health officials want the public to understand that all three vaccines are similarly effective in preventing COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.

Unlike Pfizer and Moderna, Johnson & Johnson vaccines can be administered with a single dose. President Joe Biden’s administration hopes this feature will allow states to expand access to vulnerable groups who lack the desire or ability to return for a second shot three to four weeks after they were first inoculated. The Johnson & Johnson vaccines can more easily be used to vaccinate people who live in geographically isolated communities that lack ultra-cold storage capacity. Johnson & Johnson doses are shipped in bundles of 100, making it more accessible than Pfizer’s, which come in trays of 1,170.

Data provided by the state Department of Health and Human Services shows the Johnson & Johnson shots going out to 43 vaccine providers this week, including five independent pharmacies and three federally qualified health centers.

Shortly before the federal government approved the J&J vaccine, North Carolina’s top public health, Dr. Mandy Cohen, told The Associated Press the third available vaccine would help remedy supply shortages and fill coverage gaps.

“With J&J, we’ll have yet another safe, effective vaccine that I am excited that will be here in our state,” said Cohen, who expects to get vaccinated later this week. “I think it’s going to really help.”

Noel Brewer, a behavior scientist who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said data shows J&J is “incredibly effective” at reducing risk of severe health complications if someone is infected with the virus.

“We should get whatever vaccine is on the table for us that day,” Brewer said. “Sooner is better than trying to chase down whatever the preconceived ‘best’ vaccine is.”

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