First COVID-19 vaccine in N.C.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem received its first doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday. It arrived about 7:30 a.m. packed in dry ice and was considered the first received statewide. Jennifer Noped, right, and Natalie Russell, pharmacy managers at the hospital, are unloading the vaccine.

Wilkes County’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine is expected next week, but local and state officials still don’t know how much is coming.

Meanwhile, 85,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected at 53 hospitals across the state by the end of this week. North Carolina’s first shipment — 1,925 doses — arrived at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem about 7:30 a.m. Monday. Vaccination of employees there started Monday.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the number of doses expected at each of the 53 hospitals this week, including 975 doses at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin.

The 53 hospitals were chosen based on their numbers of beds and health care workers and county populations, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary, in a press conference Thursday. Ultra-cold storage capacity, needed for the Pfizer vaccine, also was a factor.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard said the vaccines coming to the health department next week are from Moderna. Federal Food and Drug Administration approval of Moderna’s vaccine is expected late this week.

“We don’t know the amount, but we were told that 100 doses are the minimum” from Moderna in one shipment, said Willard, adding that it’s supposed to arrive weekly after that.

Dr. Amanda Moore, DHHS pharmacist, said Thursday, “We are making every effort to make sure” every hospital not among the first 53 and every local health department receive Moderna vaccines the second week (next week).

“The question is how much” of the Moderna vaccine to expect then, added Moore. “When the amount from Pfizer coming in the second week is known, that will help clarify.”

Wake Forest Baptist spokesman Joe McCloskey said Tuesday that Wake Forest Baptist officials are working with Wilkes Medical Center leadership on the plan to roll out the vaccines to employees there. We are vaccinating some small groups of Wake Forest Baptist Health employees this week in Winston-Salem and then will begin to ramp up the distribution to other hospitals, including Wilkes Medical Center.”

Willard said vaccination prioritization in Wilkes will be based on a DHHS plan. Phase 1A of the plan lists those vaccinated first, including health care workers who care for patients with COVID-19, those vaccinating these workers and those cleaning areas used by COVID-19 patients. Willard said this includes certain Wilkes Emergency Medical Service, Wilkes Health Department and Wilkes Medical Center personnel, among others.

Cohen said hospital staff vaccinations will be staggered to avoid potential staffing problems due to reactions to the vaccine.

The health department is surveying people eligible for the first round of vaccinations to get an idea of how many intend to be vaccinated. County Manager John Yates COVID-19 vaccinations aren’t mandatory for county government employees.

Also in phase 1A are staff and residents in skilled and unskilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes. Cohen said the federal government will oversee vaccinations in long-term care facilities, working with CVS and Walgreens to provide this.

Cohen said phase 1A “will certainly be the work of December and likely go into January.”

She added, “I want to caution everyone. In terms of time frames, we don’t even know how much vaccine we’re going to be receiving from the federal government in week two. So, it’s really hard for us to project exact timelines at this point.”

Phase 1B includes adults at risk with COVID-19 because they have two or more chronic conditions, such as COPD or Type 2 diabetes. It includes “essential frontline workers,” such as teachers, law enforcement officers, food processing workers and certain health care workers. Phase 1B also includes those working in prisons and homeless shelters.

Phase 2 includes those living in prisons and adults 65 and older with one chronic condition that puts them at risk of severe illness.

Phase 3 includes college and university students and K-12 students when there is an approved vaccine for children. It also includes those employed in jobs critical to society and at lower risk of exposure.

Phase 4 is for everyone else. Wilkes County government officials are discussing plans for drive-through vaccination clinics, possibly at the Park at River’s Edge.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both must be administered in two doses, with four weeks between the Moderna doses and three weeks for Pfizer.

Cohen said the 85,800 Pfizer doses coming to North Carolina this week are all first doses, which means enough for partially vaccinating 85,800 people. She said state officials are confident about receiving the second doses.

In addition to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the first 11 hospitals to receive the vaccine include Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Lenoir and Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory.

Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin, Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, Iredell Health System in Statesville and Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem are among the other 42.

Cohen said each state’s population is determining how many doses it receives.

North Carolina officials hope to have delivered vials of COVID-19 vaccine to all 100 counties by Christmas. It’s free to everyone, with insurances companies and the federal government covering the cost.

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