UPDATE: The Wilkes Health Department is getting 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week instead of the 200 originally announced due to Wake Forest Baptist Health deciding to let the health department have 600 doses that Wilkes Medical Center received Wednesday, said Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard. The health department therefore has 700 doses of the Moderna vaccine to administer in Thursday’s drive-through clinic instead of 200, said Willard, adding that 100 doses will be designated for evening vaccinations by appointment at the health department. More details about Wake Forest Baptist Health’s decision to share its allocation of vaccine with the health department are forthcoming.

The Wilkes County Health Department received another 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday for a drive-through clinic starting at 10 a.m. Thursday at a new location—Industrial Drive (old airport runway) at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge in Wilkesboro.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said the clinic again is for people 75 and older (phase 1B, group 1) and health care staff working directly with COVID-19 patients, those cleaning and maintaining areas with COVID-19 patients, those administering the vaccines, staff and residents of long-term care facilities (phase 1A).

Willard said people wishing to be vaccinated need to turn from N.C. 268 West onto YMCA Boulevard, pass by the Wilkes Family YMCA and then turn onto Industrial Drive. Staff will be there giving directions. She expected all 200 doses to be administered that day.

Health department staff will screen people for eligibility for vaccinations as they wait in line in vehicles. Each will be given a card with a number when found eligible and people must have these cards to be vaccinated. When the number of cards given out equals the amount of vaccine available that day, no more cards are given, she said.

With the 200 doses to be given Thursday and those at the health department over the prior three weeks, about 1,100 people have now received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in the public clinics. A second dose is supposed to be received 28 days later.

Willard said next week’s shipment of Moderna is supposed to include 400 second doses of the vaccine for the first people vaccinated in the clinics, in addition to a few hundred first doses. She said second doses will be given on one day and first doses on another day next week to help make sure they’re administered correctly.

Meanwhile, COVID-19-related deaths are increasing in Wilkes at an accelerated pace. Nine such deaths were reported in Wilkes in the first 10 days of 2021. Willard said the nine reflected an increase in deaths of people in their 60s and none were related to long-term care facilities. Nearly half of the COVID-19-related deaths in Wilkes in 2020 occurred in the last two months of the year. The death total now is 80.

Wilkes is ahead of adjoining counties again in new confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. On Monday, Wilkes crossed the 4,500 mark with 4,532 cases since the pandemic started. The new year began with passing the 4,000 mark. Wilkes had 411 active cases, with 28 of those hospitalized, as of Monday. Eighty confirmed deaths were reported.

The health department has received 200 to 400 doses of Moderna vaccine per week so far, with little advance notice of the amount and arrival day from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Most of the people vaccinated so far in the clinics are those 75 and older not necessarily at increased risk due to health status or living conditions. They also include those eligible to be vaccinated first of all—health care staff working directly with COVID-19 patients, those cleaning and maintaining areas with COVID-19 patients, those administering the vaccines, staff and residents of long-term care facilities.

Clinics held in a health department parking lot drew long lines of cars and left many people frustrated when vaccine supplies ran out before they could get vaccinated. Willard said it’s equally frustrating for health department personnel because they’re working hard to serve the public. She said lacking far less than enough vaccine to meet demand and not knowing the amount coming very far in advance each week created a difficult situation.

COVID-19 vaccinations are by appointment only in many counties and Willard said this is being considered for the Wilkes clinics.

“The federal government tells the state how much North Carolina will get and from there NCDHHS (N.C. Division of Health and Human Services) how much goes to each enrolled provider.” She said factors determining allocations of the Moderna vaccine to each county include population, number of hospital beds and most doses given in a single day compared to on-hand inventory.

Willard noted that the Surry County Health Department is getting 100 and the Yadkin Health Department is getting 300 does of Moderna vaccine next week.

She said Wilkes Medical Center was supposed to get 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week.

Wilkes Medical Center is part of the Wake Forest Baptist Health system and began offering the Pfizer vaccine to hospital employees in phase 1A on Dec. 21. More than 600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had been given to Wilkes Medical Center employees by Thursday evening.

First doses of the Moderna vaccine have been given or are scheduled to be given to residents and staff of all long-term care facilities in Wilkes in clinics conducted by either Walgreens or CVS pharmacies. Directors of some of these facilities said only about half of their employees were willing to be vaccinated at this point.

Willard said during the Wilkes Board of Education meeting Monday night that phase 1B, group 2 in the state’s vaccine eligibility plan, which includes K-12 teachers and staff age 50 and older, is supposed to start around Jan. 20. Phase 1B, group 3 includes K-12 teachers and staff under 50.

“All of this information could change tomorrow,” Willard told the board. “We know that our (vaccination) phases changed just recently,” referring to revisions that included advancing all people 75 and older in vaccine eligibility.

She also said the Wilkes Health Department won’t necessarily be ready to start vaccinating people in phase 1B, group 2 next week “because we’re only getting about 200 doses of vaccine per week instead of the 600 to 1,000 doses larger counties are getting each week.

Dr. Westley Wood, assistant superintendent for personnel and human resources in the Wilkes schools, determined an estimate of the number of teachers and teacher assistants age 50 and older. She said a survey will be sent to determine interest among school teachers and teacher assistants in receiving the vaccine and further define the actual number to be vaccinated and facilitate the process.

School board member Hardin Kennedy asked Willard when the Wilkes schools might reach something approaching herd immunity, now that vaccinations are being given.

Willard said the transition from President Trump’s administration to President Biden’s should result in a more aggressive timeline for reaching herd immunity since Biden plans to make larger amounts of vaccine available.

She said it’s possible that 65-70% of Wilkes residents could be vaccinated by the time the 2021-22 school year starts, but that timeline could be moved up three months if Biden gets enough additional vaccine released.

Willard said that if the health department had enough vaccine on hand to vaccinate every Wilkes resident 18 and older and everyone was willing, it could do this within a month. “But, we don’t have that supply. It all depends on how much is available and that is far beyond the control of the State of North Carolina.”

Willingness to be vaccinated is an issue in the governments of Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro.

“We’re having difficulty getting our front-line workers to take the vaccine that has been made available to them,” said Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland during the Wilkes Economic Development Corp. board meeting Friday.

Noland said the concerns apparently are based on reports of the vaccine being rushed through the approval process, so they’re concerned about side effects and don’t want to be among the first to be vaccinated. Noland said there are no plans to make vaccinations mandatory.

In the last few days, the North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro elected governing bodies both took action with benefits offerings to give employees incentives for being vaccinated for COVID-19.

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