Wilkes Medical Center employees started receiving Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations in a conference room on the hospital’s main floor by mid-morning Monday after the first shipment arrived about 7:30 that morning.

The doses were brought to the North Wilkesboro hospital from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, which received its initial shipment of 2,925 doses of Pfizer vaccine around 7:30 a.m. Dec. 14.

Dozens of hospital employees awaiting their turns to be vaccinated were lined up in the hallway from the conference room entrance to the main hospital lobby Monday morning. After each received a shot, he or she was directed to a seat in the conference room and told to wait 15 minutes before leaving as a precaution in case a reaction occurred.

Dr. Mira Boone, hospitalist at Wilkes Medical Center, was among those vaccinated Monday. Boone said later Monday, “Taking the vaccine is just the right thing to do. It’s right for my patients, it’s right for myself and for my family, for my kids and my husband, and for all the people I love. And it’s right for the community.”

She added, “We all want our life back from this plague. And the only way out of it anytime soon is by everyone getting this vaccine.”

Boone said she and her colleagues at Wilkes Medical Center have seen firsthand the horrors of COVID-19. “We watch as many patients fight for their lives and often lose the battle. I would much rather take my chances with a safe and effective vaccine than take my chances with this horrible disease.”

She also praised the scientists and research volunteers who made this vaccine possible. “It is truly a wonderful and amazing feet of modern science to have a vaccine this fast. I am truly grateful.”

On Dec. 15, 10 employees in a pilot group at Wake Forest Baptist in Winston-Salem became the first people there to receive the vaccine.

The first shipment of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Wilkes arrived Tuesday morning, said Wilkes Health Department Director Rachel Willard. On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Moderna for emergency use.

Willard said 800 doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived in the first shipment, with half going to Wilkes Medical Center and half to the health department. “It’s supposed to come on a weekly basis after that but we don’t know how much.”

A Wilkes Medical Center spokesman said amounts of additional vaccine coming there also aren’t known.

Willard said the health department received four kits of needles and alcohol swabs for vaccinations. Staff training for giving the shots started last week.

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

Wake Forest Baptist and the health department are following a phased approach, aligned with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) guidance, to prioritize the order of vaccinations. It’s based on likelihood of exposure to the virus.

Phase 1A of the plan has 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.

The health department surveyed people included in phase 1A 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. It also isn’t mandatory for employees of Wake Forest Baptist, Wilkes Medical Center and other Wake Forest Baptist affiliate hospitals.

Wake Forest Baptist spokesman Joe McCloskey said Wake Forest Baptist officials are working with Wilkes Medical Center leadership on plans to roll out the vaccines to employees there.

Statewide, 85,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at 53 hospitals by the end of last week, including 975 doses at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin. Staff at the Mountain View and Clingman medical centers in Wilkes, which are affiliated with Hugh Chatham, were vaccinated with part of this shipment late last week.

The 53 hospitals were chosen based on their numbers of beds and health care workers and county populations, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary. Ultra-cold storage capacity, needed for the Pfizer vaccine, also was a factor. Cohen said hospital staff vaccinations are being staggered to avoid potential staffing problems

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines both must be administered in two doses, with four weeks between the Moderna doses and three weeks for Pfizer. A person must receive the same brand — Moderna or Pfizer — both times.

The CDC said Saturday that anyone with a severe reaction to the vaccine shouldn’t get a second dose. It defined severe as needing epinephrine or treatment in a hospital.

Also in phase 1A are staff and residents in skilled and unskilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes. Willard said vaccinations at these facilities in Wilkes were expected to start this week. The federal government is overseeing 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 said not knowing how much of the vaccine is coming and when has made it hard to plan tiimelines.

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.

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