The Alexander County Health Department has received more than 2,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, and many people are wondering, “When can I get vaccinated?” The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has developed, and recently revised, a four-phase plan which first provides vaccines to those most at risk of exposure to the virus or at risk of severe illness resulting in hospitalization or death.
Leeanne Whisnant, Alexander County Consolidated Human Services Director, said she believes the state’s distribution plan is a good one but hopes the rollout will go smoothly and quickly.
“The state based their vaccine prioritization plan using federal guidelines from the CDC,” Whisnant said. “We have been administering the vaccine in Phase 1a this week to local health care personnel who are on the front lines and are at a high risk of contracting the virus. While the vaccine is a wonderful thing, it is putting an additional strain on our staff, so we ask for the public to be patient with us during this process.”
In Phase 1a, Whisnant said the local health department has administered the vaccine to public health staff, EMS employees, doctors, nurses, pharmacists who are conducting tests, and others who are assisting COVID-19 patients.
“During the week of January 4, we plan to begin Phase 1b which will include anyone age 75 or older, as well as our law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and first responders,” she stated.
Whisnant said the vaccine will be available free of charge to everyone who wants it; however, supplies will be limited at first and state guidelines must be followed. Plans for vaccination clinics are in the works, but currently an appointment is necessary to receive the vaccine. If you are in the current phase to receive the vaccine, call (828) 632-9704 and leave your name, phone number, and reason for calling, and a staff member will return your call to arrange an appointment date and time.
“This vaccine has come at a critical time for our county, state, and country as it is our best ‘shot’ at preventing COVID-19,” Whisnant related. “We are anxious to start vaccinating as many people as possible following the state’s directions and our capabilities.”
In the coming weeks, Peoples Drug and Office Practice of Pharmacy will also be providing vaccinations, but no timeline has been provided by the state as to when they will receive the vaccine.
Here are the various phases as outlined by the state:
Phase 1a: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 and long-term care staff and residents
Health care workers caring for and working directly with patients with COVID-19, including staff responsible for cleaning and maintenance in those areas
Health care workers administering vaccine
Long-term care staff and residents, including people in skilled nursing facilities and in adult, family, and group homes
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: Anyone age 75 or older, regardless of health status or living situation
Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older
The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (e.g., firefighters and law enforcement), 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.
Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age
Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness
Vaccinations will happen by group 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.
Phase 4: Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination
“We appreciate the community’s support and patience as we all work together to protect the health of our citizens,” Whisnant said. “This pandemic has taken a toll on us all, both physically and mentally. The vaccine is a much-needed light at the end of this long tunnel.”
Citizens are urged to keep practicing the 3 Ws – wear a mask, wait six feet apart, wash your hands – until everyone has a chance to get vaccinated.
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.