Other county leaders and teachers react to New Hanover commissioners getting vaccine ahead of schedule

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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — As thousands in the Cape Fear area wait their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine, some local elected officials are getting theirs ahead of their assigned group.

A New Hanover County Spokesperson says all five commissioners were vaccinated on January 13 because additional vaccines became available and needed to be used. However, the commissioners were not eligible to receive that vaccine at that time.

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The move has left some educators feeling slighted. Both educators and elected officials under the age of 65 without underlying health conditions fall under vaccination Group 3. North Carolina is currently only vaccinating Groups 1 and 2.

“Teachers are really angry right now because the county commissioners stepped ahead of line and got the vaccine,” said retired teacher Maryann Nunnally.

Nunnally spent 50 years working in schools, 25 of those years in New Hanover County.

“I love to teach, I think it’s one of the best things you can do, but I wouldn’t go in a public school right now,” she said.

Nunnally says teachers feel unsafe going to school without being vaccinated, but most are not yet eligible. She says finding out all five county commissioners were vaccinated ahead of schedule is discouraging.

“The truth is, the county commissioners have been pushing to open the public schools,” Nunnally said. “If any one of them had said ‘no, let me call a teacher that I know and let them have this leftover vaccine probably would have been a smart thing to do.”

A county spokesperson says the early vaccination was the result of a vial producing extra doses and people not showing up for their scheduled time.

Commission chair Julia Olson-Boseman released the following statement:

“Commissioners are leaders in this community, elected by our constituents to govern New Hanover County and we were each vaccinated in our public duty capacity and not as private citizens. I certainly want to keep each person on the board as safe as possible, as they are asked to meet in person as a group and go out in the community to do the job the people elected us to do. The county is the lead entity in local vaccination efforts and it’s imperative that our board is healthy so we can make decisions and continue governing to keep our entire community healthy and safe. Those crucial decisions and actions are made as a full board, and not as individuals, so I believe it’s important for the full board, and not just a subset of the board, to be healthy and well. When budget amendments are needed to pay for our COVID-19 response or for vaccination efforts across the community, that is a full board decision. Or when actions are taken to ensure vaccines reach historically marginalized communities or vaccines are transferred to local partners, those are done under the oversight of the full board. Those decisions are incredibly important, and they require our full board to be involved. So when the vaccine was offered to us, we each were willing and eager to be vaccinated.”

Nunnally reacted to that statement.

“I love Julia Boseman, I’ve always supported her, but I think her statement as an explanation was really unfortunate,” Nunnally said. “It kind of sounded like county commissioners were a lot more important than other people.”

Nunnally says she ultimately doesn’t blame county commissioners for taking what was offered to them. She blames the state and federal government for not prioritizing teachers and other school employees.

“Nobody has said teachers are so essential that they need to be first in line, but they do,” she said.

The New Hanover County Association of Educators released the following statement:

“Public health and public safety should be priority #1 during this pandemic. Like millions of people across North Carolina, New Hanover educators, bus drivers, custodians, and school staff are anxiously waiting for access to the vaccine. From Virginia to Hawaii, educators in 23 other states are now being vaccinated.
We encourage the New Hanover Board of Education to continue prioritizing the safety of school workers. Schools can fully re-open safely once our school employees have access to first and second doses of the COVID vaccine.”

We reached out to Commissioners in other counties to see when they would get their vaccinations.

According to Bladen County Chairman Charles Ray Peterson, “I’m no… even though we are out in the public a lot, we don’t deserve it before other people deserve it. So we need to wait for our time, and as far as I know, that’s our plan. We’re not doing any special vaccinations for county commissioners.”

Peterson is over the age of 65 and received his first dose when he became eligible.

Mark Gillespie, Bladen County’s Vice-Chair, is not yet eligible and said he doesn’t plan to get his vaccine until he is.

Gillespie said, “I have heard no plans of us doing anything about vaccines but waiting our turns. That’s all I’ve heard.”

A Pender County spokesperson says only one commissioner, who is over the age of 75, has gotten a vaccination.

The spokesperson said they are serving their older population per state and federal guidelines first.

We also reached out to Brunswick County and the Columbus County Health Department for comment.

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