- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 31, 2021

GASTONIA, N.C. (AP) - As North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper toured vaccine clinics Wednesday in Gastonia, he repeated one phrase to people getting COVID-19 shots: “Go tell all your friends!”

And to 16-year-old Ava Guerrero, who was getting a vaccine, he added: “Tell teenagers this is important.”

Cooper’s message for all North Carolinians is to get the COVID-19 shot when you can, and to encourage others to get the shot.

“We are turning the corner on this pandemic,” he said Wednesday at CaroMont Regional Medical Center. “We see light at the end of the tunnel. And what’s happening here today, people getting vaccinated, is our road to recovery. And it is our path to normalcy.”

Guerrero, who got the Pfizer vaccine, is a student at Marvin Ridge High School in Union County. Pfizer is the only shot currently authorized for use in 16- and 17-year-olds.

“I was really nervous when I first got it,” she said of the shot. “But I feel good now.”

Pfizer announced Wednesday that new clinical trials showed its vaccine has “100% efficacy and robust antibody responses” in adolescents from 12 to 15 years old.

Cooper’s visit to the Charlotte area comes as the state expands vaccine eligibility to everyone in Group 4. That includes all essential workers not yet immunized, including those who work in the chemical, commercial facilities, communications, construction, real estate, energy, financial services and public infrastructure sectors.

And on April 7, everyone in the state age 16 and up will be eligible for a vaccine appointment.

Vaccine appointments may be scarce in the first few weeks of expanded eligibility, Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris has warned.

But Cooper says the state expects an increase in vaccine supply soon, starting with a new shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arriving in the state this week. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot instead of two.

And North Carolina is increasing the number of independent practices receiving COVID-19 vaccines, Cooper said. That includes Gaston Medical Partners, which was Cooper’s first stop in Gastonia.

The independent medical practice received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine two weeks ago, Dr. Michael McCartney told Cooper and media Wednesday.

The practice is receiving about 100 doses per week. Getting vaccines to independent practices is key in fighting vaccine hesitancy, Cooper said.

“A lot of people trust their family doctor and provider,” he said.

Cooper eased some major COVID-19 restrictions last week, allowing some businesses like retail stores, museums and salons to reopen at full capacity, starting at 5 p.m. Friday. The loosening of restrictions comes as the state sees improvements in COVID-19 trends like deaths and hospitalizations.

But state and local officials have emphasized that the mask mandate is still in effect, and North Carolinians should continue following social distancing guidelines.

“I am excited about the future,” Cooper said during his visit. “But I’ll just leave this caveat - we still aren’t there yet. We have to keep being responsible, and doing the things we need to do to slow the spread of this virus.”

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