There’s a good chance North Carolina will officially move to the next stage of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility by the end of February, said Dr. Christopher Ohl, an expert on infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Speaking in his live weekly COVID-19 update on Facebook on Feb. 4, Ohl said he didn’t anticipate moving to the next phase of eligibility until vaccine supplies increase. He said this should occur by the end of February.

People in group three — certain “frontline essential workers” — are next to be eligible for vaccination. These are people in one of eight sectors who must have an in-person presence at their place or line of work.

The eight categories are critical manufacturing, education, essential goods, food and agriculture, education, government and community services, health care and public health, public safety and transportation.

Examples of occupations in group three categories are teachers, clergy, child care staff, law enforcement officers, social workers, public health workers, restaurant workers, auto mechanics, court workers, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel, U.S. Postal Service workers, food processing workers and workers in stores that sell groceries and medicine.

Group four includes other essential workers, anyone 16-64 years old with one or more high-risk medical conditions and people living in jails or prisons. The other essential workers include plumbers, electricians, exterminators, reporters. They also include people working in banks, information technology, laundromats, sanitation, parks, hotels, housing or real estate, wastewater treatment and energy.

Group five is other adults.

“There are still a lot of people with (vaccination) appointments weeks if not months out,” added Ohl, referring to those now eligible to be vaccinated. These are primarily people in group two, which is people 65 or older, regardless of health status or living situation.

People in group one, also currently eligible, include residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, family care homes, mental health group homes, in-patient hospice facilities and health care workers with in-person patient contact. People in long-term care facilities are receiving the vaccine through pharmacies under auspices of the federal government.

“There are still a lot of people with appointments weeks if not months out,” added Ohl.

The prioritized groupings of people for vaccination are listed by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Resources.

Ohl also said AstraZeneca, a COVID-19 vaccine with about 85% efficacy, should be out around the end of February. It doesn’t require extreme cold storage and possibly can be given in just one dose, he added.

Ohl said the recent decrease in new COVID-19 cases shows a post-Christmas holiday surge in cases is over in North Carolina, “but there still is a lot of COVID out there.”

He said a spike in cases on Feb. 2 was due to one testing entity reporting two weeks of results in the same week.

Ohl said COVID-19 variants are more common than expected in the U.S., with the UK (United Kingdom) variant being the most dominant.

“For the most part, (current) vaccines cover the variants,” but the South African and Brazilian variant a little less so, said Ohl. Some people infected earlier with COVID-19 seem to be more vulnerable to being re-infected with the South African variant, he added.

Ohl said current vaccines protect people better from the UK (United Kingdom) variant, but “we’re still trying to figure out how much more transmissible it might be.”

He said companies making vaccines are tweaking them to cover some of the variants. “I suspect that by late summer or early fall, those will be out there. So, if we need to, we can get booster shots — another round of vaccines.”

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