After averaging around 40 people each day Dec. 28-30, a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the Wilkes Health Department’s rear parking lot off College Street in Wilkesboro drew about 300 people Dec. 31.
Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard said additional health department staff were utilized to assist with administering the Moderna vaccine to the larger-than-expected crowd. About 30 health department employees were involved.
Willard said additional people Friday and 80 more Monday brought the total vaccinated with Moderna by the health department to 700. The department received another 200 doses of this vaccine Tuesday, with 50 set aside for evening vaccinations by appointment and the rest for the drive-through clinic that day.
She didn’t expect the health department to receive more doses of vaccine for COVID-19 until next week. Wilkes Medical Center is also receiving vials of Moderna, plus the Pfizer vaccine from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Vaccination totals at the hospital aren’t shared with Willard.
Meanwhile, county government officials in Wilkes and the Wilkes Journal-Patriot received calls this week from people concerned about trying but not being able to get vaccinated at the health department, most often because none of the vaccine was left after they waited in a line of vehicles.
Some say they waited over an hour only to be told that no vaccine doses were left. One man said that after waiting for an hour and a half, he thought he was about to be vaccinated but was denied because he didn’t have a paper with a number he needed but didn’t know anything about.
Another man said that when he arrived at the health department about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, he was told all of the vaccine had been administered even though the clinic was advertised as starting at 1 p.m. The man said he also tried unsuccessfully to get vaccinated there Monday.
Eddie Settle, chairman of the county commissioners, said he sympathizes with people’s concerns but added that the problem is that Wilkes County government can’t get enough of the vaccine delivered here to meet current demand. “If we can get it, we can give out around 100 doses an hour,” said Settle.
The health department announced a schedule of upcoming drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinics Thursday on its website, but there hasn’t been enough of the vaccine for these designated hours. Willard said people should check the health department website at wilkeshealth.com for updates.
On Thursday and at other times, Wilkes Sheriff’s Office deputies and Wilkesboro police officers helped with traffic. This included routing vehicles on a circular route through the Wilkesboro United Methodist Church parking lot to reduce congestion elsewhere.
Chief Deputy James Summers said vehicles were backed up on College Street and then on Main Street to the intersection of Cherry and Main streets (distance of nearly three-quarters of a mile) early Thursday afternoon. Traffic was backed up about the same distance in the other direction on Main Street, he added.
Willard said vaccinations started Thursday after people began arriving about 11:30 a.m., even though they weren’t scheduled to start until 1:30 p.m. They continued until people stopped appearing, which was about 4:45 p.m. People remained in their vehicles while being vaccinated.
The single line of vehicles was separated into three lanes upon reaching the health department’s rear parking lot, where those to be vaccinated provided information to health department staff before receiving shots at one station per lane. Willard said eight health department employees — nurses and others — administered the vaccines.
After being vaccinated, people were directed to drive to the parking lot on the other side of College Street in front of the health department building and wait 15 minute in case they developed a severe reaction. Wilkes Emergency Medical Services staff were posted at that point to screen people and provide any assistance needed.
Willard said she was encouraged by the large turnout Thursday and added that she wasn’t aware of any severe reactions at the drive-through clinics.
A little over a week ago, she said it appeared around 50-60% of people were unwilling or unsure about receiving the vaccine. She added that she expected this percentage to increase. A little over 2,000 Wilkes residents indicated they plan to be vaccinated, mostly by responding to a survey on the health department website.
Those eligible to receive the vaccine Thursday included all people 75 and older “regardless of health status or living situation,” the definition for people in “Group 1 of Phase 1B” of a revised vaccination plan announced Dec. 30 by Gov. Roy Cooper. Many vaccinated at the health department Thursday and this week appeared to fit this demographic.
Unless eligible for other reasons, adults had to be at higher risk for COVID-19 due to at least two chronic health conditions prior to the revision. Only people in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan were eligible to be vaccinated at the health department’s drive-through clinic Dec. 28-30. Phase 1A includes 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 and certain others.
As defined in the revised plan, Group 2 of Phase 1B includes health care workers and essential frontline workers 50 years old or older and Group 3 of Phase 1B is health care workers and essential frontline workers of any age.
The plan uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definition of essential frontline workers: “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.”
Prior to the revision, Phase 1B included adults at risk with COVID-19 because they have two or more chronic conditions and essential frontline workers.
The tentative plan announced Thursday included continuing vaccinations of those in Phase 1A and Group 1 of Phase 1B this week, the week of Jan. 20 and the week of Feb. 8. It also included adding people in Group 2 of Phase 1B the week of Jan. 20 and adding people in Group 3 of Phase 1B the week of Feb. 8.
Tentative times are 1:30-4:30 p.m. An appointment currently isn’t needed for a vaccination in these daytime clinics. Birth dates are checked to verify age eligibility, but clinic participants don’t have to be Wilkes residents.
Vaccinations from 5-6:30 p.m. on weekdays are available by calling the health department for an appointment.
Residents and staff of local long-term care facilities are currently being vaccinated through Walgreens. This is being provided through Walgreens or CVS nationwide, with federal government oversight
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both require two doses. The second Pfizer dose is administered 21 days after the first. Moderna’s second dose is given 28 days after the first. The Moderna vaccine was found to be 94.1% effective at preventing symptomatic cases, while the Pfizer is 95% effectiveness.
Updates on the number of people vaccinated in Wilkes and elsewhere in the state are at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard/vaccinations. More details on the vaccine are at https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.