(Adds Gov. Cooper’s press officer’s statement in sixth paragraph.)
NC Chamber CEO Gary Salamido issued a rare commentary Thursday criticizing the state of North Carolina’s vaccination distribution effort, which is lagging most peers.
He said the business-promotion group would form a committee to study ways that the private sector could speed distribution of vaccines, noting that the state’s “abundance of world-class health care, logistics and communications expertise” makes North Carolina’s failing particularly vexing.
The state has administered about one-third of its allotment of about 850,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses and federal officials say distributions may be tied to the effectiveness of states in the process.
About 267,000 North Carolinians have received vaccinations, or about 31% of allocated shots. That ranks 37th out of 50 states, according to the CDC’s Covid Data Tracker.
“There remains a paucity of both vaccine administration and helpful information for our residents as to an orderly, efficient, thorough, and sensible distribution process,” Salamido said. “The stakes could not be higher, and our current confidence could not be lower. Sobering realities for a state accustomed to leading. North Carolina can and must do better. Importantly, there are solutions and a cognizable path forward.”
The comments drew a sharp response from Gov. Roy Cooper spokeswoman Dory MacMillan: “Even amidst shifting federal guidance, North Carolina’s pace of vaccinations has increased 133% in the past week and the state has administered more doses of vaccine than 41 other states and [the District of Columbia.)
“Even as groups like the Chamber have pushed for tax cuts for the wealthy that harm state and local government services, the Governor has directed every resource needed be used to increase vaccinations and is engaged with prominent private-public partnerships to help. Constructive feedback is welcome, but empty words do nothing to help get shots in arms right now.”
Since the onset of the pandemic, some N.C. business leaders, Republican lawmakers and Council of State members have periodically urged Gov. Roy Cooper to be more collaborative in developing responses to crisis-related problems.
Still, Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s public health director, have won plaudits for managing the crisis in a way that has limited the mortality rate compared with most other Southern states. Dr. Cohen is Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
But problems around the vaccine distribution over the last month are sparking more criticism such as Salamido’s release. He cited NC Chamber polling showing that 69% believe that “COVID actions and orders would be ‘Much more’ or `Somewhat more’ effective if impacted stakeholders were engaged before actions are taken.”
One issue cited by some business leaders is how the state has routed vaccines through hospitals and county health departments rather than drug stores, physicians’ offices and other private-sector networks. West Virginia and some other states have had success with that approach.
“This vaccine rollout was one of the most anticipated world events in memory,” Salamido noted. “It was months in the making and much was made of a planning process that is now falling far short of reasonable expectations.”
A request for comment from the offices of Cooper and Cohen wasn’t immediately answered.
North Carolina ranks among the nation’s leading states for drug manufacturing and research with many of the world’s pharmaceutical companies having installations in the Triangle and eastern North Carolina.