CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nearly 3 million more people in North Carolina are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as the state moved into Group 4 vaccinations Wednesday.
Starting on Wednesday, March 17, select members of Group 4 can schedule their appointment to receive the vaccine. People with pre-existing health conditions that put them at risk for catching COVID-19, as well as those experiencing homelessness are now eligible for the vaccine.
Demand for appointments is high. In Mecklenburg County, 650 appointments through StarMed and the Health Department were booked in less than five minutes.
"I think the trickiest part was finding availability that wasn't too far out,” Taylor West said.
It’s been difficult for vaccine providers to balance supply and demand.
Proof of that, hundreds of people dropped everything after Gaston County officials announced a pop-up vaccine clinic.
"So we can see people, so we can hug and travel, d all of the above! So we can get back to normal,” Jodi Bass Greene said. "The Gaston County website Facebook page basically said we've got 500 extra doses so I bolted from work!"
They were giving single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots.
“I have an appointment in a few days but I’d rather take this one since it's sooner and only one shot,” Devodie Arnett said.
But the supply the state is getting from the federal government has already doubled since the end of January. Right now, the state receives about 240,000 doses each week. By April, they expect it to be about 350,000 doses.
That’s on top of other options people have locally.
“We know every Walgreens and some of our CVS in the state of North Carolina have vaccines. That is above the allocation that comes to our state,” Health Secretary Mandy Cohen said.
And in the next few months, they expect that everyone who wants an appointment should be able to get one. President Biden challenged the states to do so by May 1.
"North Carolina will be ready to meet this challenge thanks to our vaccine teams planning, increased supply we expect to receive and the hard work of providers administering shots quickly,” Gov. Roy Cooper said.
Asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity are among the select pre-existing conditions for Group 4. Smokers are also in Group 4, as well as any person who has smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime.
Group 4 also includes front-line workers who weren't part of the Group 3 rollout. This includes retail and utility workers not previously vaccinated, but they'll have to wait until April 7 to schedule their appointment.
"This may be the majority of workers," Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of North Carolina DHHS, said. "At least half of adults in North Carolina have one of these high-risk conditions."
In Mecklenburg County, all available appointments were filled by 9:20 a.m. The county tweeted that as more vaccine supply is delivered, more appointments will become available. Until then, patients are encouraged to check with other health care providers for appointments or to join the county's waiting list.
Health Director Gibbie Harris said if you're unable to secure an appointment online or by calling, eligible patients can join the waitlist and they will be contacted when more appointments are available.
Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.
Harris explained the process has been bogged down by people scheduling multiple appointments and then taking the one they can get quickest. As a result, numerous slots are going unfilled despite having a reservation.
"We still have a waiting list, and we are carving into the waiting list very quickly," Harris said. "The reason we are doing that is a lot of people are making multiple appointments."
Any person who schedules multiple appointments is urged to cancel any outstanding slots they have once receiving their vaccine.
Still unsure if you're eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine? Text WCNC Charlotte at 704-329-3600 and we'll answer your vaccine questions.