RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – In the three months since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered thousands of state employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine or get tested weekly, more than three-fourths of them have taken the vaccine, according to the latest data from the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources.
According to NCOSHR, just more than 53,000 workers are subject to the requirement. Eighteen employees have been fired for failing to comply with the order.
As of Dec. 16, nearly 77 percent of workers in Cabinet-level agencies and subject to Cooper’s order are fully vaccinated, compared to 60 percent in mid-September when the requirement went into effect.
“The vast, vast majority of them are in compliance with the executive order,” Cooper said at a press conference earlier this week.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services mandated the vaccine without the option for regular testing for employees working in state-run health facilities earlier this year. The agency said it dismissed 16 employees at the end of September for failing to comply out of nearly 10,000 who were subject to the requirement.
“One of the things I know we’ve done is offered incentives for corrections officers to get vaccinated. So, it’s critically important,” Cooper said.
The state prison system has lagged behind other state agencies in terms of employees getting vaccinated. Prison staff can receive a $500 bonus for getting vaccinated.
Dr. Arthur Campbell, medical director for the state prisons, recently told CBS 17 just under 60 percent of employees are fully vaccinated. Statewide, 69 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.
“Prisons are one of the toughest places at the end of the day to achieve the numbers we want to. I think they’re doing a good job. They’re making forward progress,” said Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. “We’re encouraging folks to follow their heart but use your head and protect yourself.”
With the omicron variant spreading quickly, Cooper stressed the importance of people getting the booster shot of the vaccine if they’re eligible.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has acknowledged the agency is assessing whether the definition of fully vaccinated will change to account for the booster shots.
“I do anticipate over time that the definition of fully vaccinated will change. It has not yet,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of NC DHHS, when asked by CBS 17 about the issue. “We don’t want to wait for that definition to change. We want folks to get boosted right now.”
She said that would be a decision left to the CDC. Cooper has not indicated any changes to his executive order are imminent.
“I think there will be a lot of talk about that in the next month because we’re going to be coming out of a holiday again. And, about two weeks out from every holiday what we’ve seen is the trend that cases are gonna spike,” said Watkins.