While we are typically proud and enthusiastic to tout North Carolina’s position at the top of a national ranking, it has been both disappointing and devastating to see our state underperform in connecting North Carolinians with COVID-19 vaccines. Despite our state’s vast resources, North Carolina is lagging both the national average and most states in the region when it comes to the percentage of distributed vaccines administered.
The related health impacts of this situation are obvious and troubling – people desperately need this vaccine to protect themselves against a cunning and unpredictable virus. The prioritization of vulnerable, high-risk populations, as well as the commitment to distribute the vaccine equitably, are laudable. However, they are not valid excuses for our state’s current predicament.
This vaccine rollout was one of the most anticipated world events in memory. It was months in the making and much was made of a planning process that is now falling far short of reasonable expectations. Moreover, our state’s current circumstance is particularly vexing given our abundance of world-class healthcare, logistics, and communications expertise. Nonetheless, there remains a paucity of both vaccine administration and helpful information for our residents as to an orderly, efficient, thorough, and sensible distribution process.
North Carolinians are increasingly distressed. Too many of our residents have lost loved ones, livelihoods, and a healthy state of mind. This vaccine is a literal lifeline and the near-term key to beginning to restore both economic and physical health in communities across our state.
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.
Today, our state’s leaders provided new guidance for vaccine distribution and expressed a more immediate focus on getting vaccines off the shelves and into the arms of waiting North Carolinians. While this news is encouraging, we cannot sit by and hope for the best when the federal government is signaling that future allocation will be based on current performance.
North Carolina’s private sector has extensive experience and expertise with respect to managing and responding to sudden, large, and/or exigent challenges. In recent decades, businesses have carefully honed their emergency response plans and fine-tuned their strategies to protect employees and keep operations and logistics running. As such, they can, and desperately want to be, a significant resource and ally for our public officials.
The NC Chamber will immediately draw on that experience and expertise as we convene our Strategic Initiative Board on Business Continuity. This diverse group of leaders will carefully examine North Carolina’s current position on vaccine distribution and offer real and pragmatic solutions specifically designed to improve this process and connect North Carolinians with a vaccine more efficiently.
Now is the time for the public and private sectors to work together more collaboratively than ever before. Our latest polling (conducted Jan. 4-7) indicates that a vast majority of North Carolinians think our state’s decision makers would be more effective through collaboration with stakeholders across the state. Specifically, 69 percent believe that COVID actions and orders would be “Much more” or “Somewhat more” effective if impacted stakeholders were engaged before actions are taken. Improving vaccine access is the key to restoring livelihoods and reenergizing our economy. We cannot remain stagnant and lag the competition. We must work together.
Since the start of the pandemic, the NC Chamber has demonstrated its commitment to collaborating with public officials to ensure that the business community does its part in protecting the lives and livelihoods of North Carolinians. Our members pivoted operations to produce lifesaving PPE, donated crucial resources to their communities, and championed the 3 Ws messaging. We will continue to serve as leaders during the vaccine distribution, but time is of the essence if we hope to relaunch North Carolina at the same pace as competing states.
The NC Chamber is committed to open and constructive collaboration, and we will continue to engage the private sector in solutions that benefit all North Carolinians. If you have feedback or proposed solutions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me by replying to this email. I will soon be back in touch as our committee and greater membership crystalize our recommendations.
In the meantime, thank you for all you are doing for our state as we navigate this pandemic together.
Gary J. Salamido
President and CEO