The Wilkes County Health Department will have 700 doses of the Moderna vaccine for a drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic Thursday at Lowe’s Park at River Edge in Wilkesboro instead of the 200 doses planned due to a gift from Wilkes Medical Center.

Six hundred doses of Moderna vaccine delivered to the hospital Wednesday were given to the health department the same day. The 600 doses initially came to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. Wilkes Medical Center is part of the Wake Forest Baptist system.

Wilkes Medical Center President Chad Brown said hospital officials were glad to contribute in this way to the important goal of getting as many people in Wilkes County vaccinated for COVID-19 as possible.

Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard was at the hospital a little after 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to receive a cooler with the 600 doses of vaccine from Brown and Arlen Rash, the hospital’s director of pharmacy. Tonya Roland and Lisa Gregory, health department immunization coordinator and assistant coordinator respectively, were also there.

The vaccine and six boxes of needles and alcohol swabs for administering it were placed in a Wilkes Sheriff’s Office vehicle driven by Chief Deputy James Summers for transport to the health department. Rash said it has to be kept at a temperature of between 2 and 8 degrees.

Willard said necessary approval of the transfer of the 600 doses was secured from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Tuesday. The health department received 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday.

She said 700 of the 800 doses will be available during the public drive-thru clinic Thursday, which starts at 10 a.m. The other 100 doses will be administered by appointment in evening clinics at the health department.

Second dosesThe first clinic for hospital employees to receive their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine is Thursday at the hospital, said Brown, adding that a few people will also receive first doses then.

He said more than 600 of the hospital’s 650-675 employees have been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, with the first vaccinations occurring Dec. 21. Brown and Rash said reactions to the first dose were no worse than what is experienced with a flu vaccination.

Brown said vaccinations of long-term care patients at the hospital with the Pfizer vaccine will soon start.

The 600 doses of Moderna given to the health department were the first of that type of vaccine received at the hospital. Second vaccine doses must be the same type as the first.

Willard said next week’s shipment of Moderna to the health department is supposed to include 400 second doses 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.

The health department clinic Thursday is again 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 right onto Industrial Drive. Staff will be there giving directions.

Why drive-thrU clinicsAlso on Wednesday, Willard addressed questions from the public about the health department’s decision to provide COVID-19 vaccinations mostly in drive-thru public clinics instead of by appointment. People have voiced frustration about having to wait in long lines on some days of the drive-thru clinics.

Willard explained that the health department doesn’t have enough staff to answer phones and handle the additional administrative work required for distributing all of the vaccine by appointment and still provide the department’s other services. She noted that some health departments providing all of their COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment have received more phone calls from people wanting to schedule appointment than they can handle, which has left people frustrated.

Willard said it would be hard to maintain COVID-19-related social distancing while having people come inside the health department for vaccination appointments and this would raise public and health department staff safety concerns.

The health department provides a limited number of vaccinations for COVID-19 by appointment during evening hours and consideration is being given to expanding these vaccinations by appointment, she added.

People have also voiced concern about the health department running out of vaccine before the announced drive-thru starting times on some days. Willard said that when long lines of vehicles formed before clinic starting times, health department staff and law enforcement began routing cars into the church parking lot for traffic control.

Due to the large turnout, staff started screening those in line for eligibility early to move things along faster once the clinic began at the scheduled time, and to avoid anyone waiting for hours only to find there was no more vaccine when they reached the immunization stations.

Based on cards with numbers given to those eligible for vaccination, the health department sometimes realized the number of people in line surpassed vaccine available before the announced starting time. Willard said this resulted in some people learning no more vaccine was available when they arrived before the announced starting time.

On Tuesday, an official with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recognized the Wilkes and Surry county health departments for how rapidly they vaccinated people for COVID-19.

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