School and child-care workers in North Carolina became eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on Wednesday. So how many people does that add to the pool?
The answer can be found on a new set of dashboards created by the N.C. Institute for Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. Drawing from census data, the institute has estimated how many people qualify for each step of the state’s phased-in vaccination process, both statewide and in each of the 100 counties.
The goal, said Matt Simon, the institute’s senior data and GIS analyst, is to give local public health officials some idea how many people they should expect to vaccinate in the weeks ahead.
“We have heard over and over about supply and demand,” Simon said. “And we know you can’t plan unless you can anticipate demand.”
The dashboards use data that the public could piece together, and Simon says the state and large counties such as Wake and Mecklenburg already do.
“But that’s not how most county health departments are,” he said. “Most have employees who are wearing multiple hats and they’re juggling 10 million other things at the same time. So we saw this as a tool to get the information out equally to all counties.”
Another benefit is that health departments can look at the demographics of people eligible to get vaccinated in their county and compare it to actual vaccination data published by the state Department of Health and Human Services to help determine where disparities lie.
North Carolina’s phased-in vaccination plan began in mid-December with front-line hospital workers and residents and employees of long-term health care facilities, such as nursing homes. Last month, people 65 and older became eligible.
Now the first essential workers are able to get vaccinated, starting Wednesday with anyone who works in child-care or schools, pre-kindergarten through high school. North Carolina will open vaccinations to other front-line essential workers, such as grocery and pharmacy store clerks and people who work in farming, food processing and distribution and restaurants, starting March 10.
The institute estimates that 296,000 educators are now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine statewide. That includes 36,300 in Wake County, for example, and about 1,700 in neighboring Franklin County.
The institute created the dashboards with local public health officials in mind, Simon says, but they are available to the public as well, at bit.ly/3qRB4fo.
“We tried to make it as easy to use as possible,” he said. “So by all means if people would like to look at it and get a better sense of where they fit in the line for vaccine, it might help with that.”