Gary L Herman
ALEXANDER COUNTY, NC (January 12, 2021) – The Alexander County Health Department is working diligently to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to as many citizens as possible in a safe manner, while adhering to state guidelines. The department is currently administering vaccinations to health care workers in Phase 1a and to those age 75 or older in Phase 1b – Group 1.
As of 8:00 a.m. on January 12, approximately 1,000 vaccines have been administered in Alexander County since December 28, 2020. Currently, the vaccination is schedule is full until Tuesday, January 19, but the health department continues to schedule appointments. All appointments this week are at the health department; however, if more vaccines are received from the state, the Alexander Senior Center will be utilized for vaccinations on weekdays beginning January 19, which will allow for approximately twice the amount of vaccinations to be administered.
“We remain hopeful that we will receive an adequate amount of vaccine in a timely manner from the state, but we do not want to schedule appointments until we have received notice of a shipment,” said Leeanne Whisnant, Consolidated Human Services Director. “We are trying to conduct an efficient and safe vaccination process for our citizens, but it is a difficult process in these early stages. We appreciate everyone’s patience.”
To schedule an appointment, call the COVID-19 Hotline at 828-352-7724 or submit your information online at www.alexandercountync.gov/covid. Please be advised that the hotline rings four telephones, so if the phone keeps ringing that means all four lines are in use, so please call back later. If you left a message or submitted your information online, you do not need to contact the health department again unless it has been more than 48 hours without someone contacting you.
If an adequate amount of vaccine is received, current plans are to add Phase 1b – Group 2 on Wednesday, January 20, which includes health care workers with in-person patient contact and frontline essential workers age 50 and older, followed by Phase 1b – Group 3 on Monday, February 8 (same criteria as Group 2, but any age). However, the federal government is in discussion with the states to possibly prioritize those ages 65-74 with one or more chronic disease, so the phases could change in the near future.
The health department initially received 1,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and the state is supposed to send the same amounts in the near future to provide second doses (approximately 21 days after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days after the first dose of the Moderna vaccine).
“We want to progress through the phases in a timely manner as the state allows, but we also have to administer the second doses to those who have received the first dose of the vaccine, so appointment scheduling is a difficult task at this time,” Whisnant said. “Plus, the state’s online system isn’t working correctly, so we are having to utilize paper forms which makes the job even more difficult. Fortunately, the county’s Emergency Services staff is assisting the health department with vaccine administration and scheduling, which has proven to be a great asset for us.”
The health department requests that citizens read the information about the state’s vaccination plan, and delay contacting the department until his/her group is to be vaccinated in the near future. In addition, state guidance says those who have had COVID-19 within the past 90 days should not be vaccinated. Also, if you are sick or are on antibiotics, the vaccination should be delayed.
In Phase 1b, Groups 2 and 3 include a large number of people including teachers and manufacturing workers. The health department will work with the school system and local industries to schedule appointments in an efficient manner.
While manufacturing employees age 50 or older are allowed to get the vaccine during Phase 1b – Group 2, Whisnant believes it would be beneficial to the industry and to the health department if all manufacturing workers would wait until Phase 1b – Group 3, in which all workers could get the vaccination and then be scheduled for their second dose on the same timeline. Initial plans were to provide vaccination clinics at the local industries, but due to the fragility of the vaccine (cold storage), staff has determined that the vaccinations must be done at the health department or possibly the senior center in order to maintain the proper temperatures and have supplies more readily available.
As the phases progress, three local pharmacies will also be providing vaccinations: Office Practice of Pharmacy, Peoples Drug, and Town & Country Drugs. Currently, no timeline has been provided by the state as to when these pharmacies will receive the vaccine.
Here are the various phases as outlined by the state as of January 12, 2021:
Phase 1a: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 and long-term care staff and residents
Phase 1b: Adults 75 years or older and frontline essential workers
There is not enough vaccine for everyone in this phase to be vaccinated at the same time; therefore, vaccinations will be available to groups in the following order.
Group 1 (current): Anyone age 75 or older, regardless of health status or living situation
Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers age 50 or older
Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age
The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers.
Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness
Vaccinations will be available to groups in the following order:
Group 1: Anyone age 65-74, regardless of health status or living situation
Group 2: Anyone age 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe disease from COVID such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, among others, regardless of living situation
Group 3: Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition, or job function
Group 4: Essential workers not yet vaccinated
The CDC defines these as workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (e.g., construction), finance (e.g., bank tellers), information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, and public safety (e.g., engineers), and public health workers.
Phase 3: Students
College and university students
K-12 students age 16 and over
Younger children will only be vaccinated when the vaccine is approved for them.
Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination
“The vaccine is a wonderful thing to have so we can help keep our citizens healthy and safe, but it brings challenges as we have limited staff and problems with the state system, all while still working with COVID-19 testing and contact tracing,” Whisnant related. “Just because we have a vaccine doesn’t mean that we should let our guard down, so we ask that citizens continue to wear a mask, maintain social distance, and wash their hands often. We appreciate the community’s support and patience during this time.”
To learn more about the vaccination plan in North Carolina, visit the NCDHHS website at https://yourspotyourshot.nc.gov. There you will find a variety of videos, PDF documents, frequently asked questions, and more.