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COVID-19 vaccine sites open for Wake County teachers and school staff

Posted February 22, 2021 4:43 a.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2021 5:55 a.m. EST

— Wake County teachers and educators can get their first coronavirus vaccines beginning Wednesday.

School employees included in Group 3A of North Carolina's vaccine rollout can now register to get a vaccine in Wake County. Multiple vaccine clinics will open on Wednesday for teachers, but all require an appointment.

WRAL Kasey Cunningham reached out to teachers signed up to get their first vaccines Wednesday. Many, including sixth grade social studies teacher Victoria Simmons, said it's an emotional day, bringing them one step closer reconnecting with their students.

"I am excited -- it feels like you hit the lottery," said Simmons, who felt lucky to get one of the very first appointments for educators.

Other teachers said they won't feel safe in a classroom until they get the vaccine.

Wake County told WRAL News it has received 12,013 vaccine requests from school staff since registration opened Monday. At least 400 teachers will be vaccinated at the Wake County Commons Building on Wednesday and more at other sites.

Wake County Schools estimates a total of 50,000 employees – from private, public and charter schools, as well as daycare centers, fall into the Group 3A category.

The new category doesn't just include teachers but also school bus drivers, janitorial staff and food service workers.

Across the state, 250,000 teachers and school staff fall into this category. However, some counties, such as Orange County, plan to vaccinate everyone 65 and older on its waiting list before moving on to school employees.

How to register for a COVID vaccine

Beginning Monday, people in Groups 1, 2 and 3A who want to register for a vaccine in Wake County can visit wakegov.com/vaccine to fill out an online request form or call the 24/7 vaccine hotline at 919-250-1515.

People will have to answer "yes" to one of three questions to register:

  • Are you 65 years old or older?
  • Are you a healthcare worker?
  • Do you work in Child Care or a Pre-K to Grade 12 school?

Once enough vaccines becomes available, people on the waitlist will be contacted via email, phone or text. They can then make an appointment online or over the phone to get their vaccine. Second dose appointments will be scheduled at the first appointment.

Each county will distribute vaccines to school and childcare workers differently.

How many vaccines have been given out so far?

North Carolina has been vaccinating seniors 65 and older and long-term care residents and staff for months.

Since the waitlist opened on Jan. 19, Wake County has received 120,000 requests for vaccines. Stacy Beard from Wake County said that number may contain duplicates from people who submitted their name numerous times -- or people who have already received a vaccine elsewhere.

"We are updating that list to better reflect how many people are truly 'waiting' for a shot from us," Beard said. "That real number will likely be significantly lower, which makes us feel much better about opening up requests for teachers today."

People in Groups 1 and 2 can continue registering on the Wake County website along with Group 3A.

Wake County Public Health has been vaccinating approximately 2,000 people a day by appointment-only at its three mass vaccination sites -- PNC Arena, the Wake County Public Health Center and the Wake County Commons Building. Vaccines are also available at Duke Health, UNC REX and WakeMed Health and Hospitals along with some local pharmacies.

Earlier in February, Gov. Roy Cooper said that all K-12 school personnel and anyone who works in child care will be eligible for vaccinations beginning Feb. 24. All other frontline "essential" workers, such as police officers, firefighters and grocery workers, will have to wait until March 10 to start getting vaccinated.

Subdividing Group 3 in the state's vaccination priority list is necessary, the governor said, to balance the limited supply of vaccine with the large number of frontline workers in the state.

North Carolina receives only 150,000 doses of vaccine each week from the federal government, and the state has about 240,000 public school personnel.

Previously, state officials said they had no plans to break Group 3 into smaller units and prioritize some professions over others. But Cooper said putting teachers at the front of Group 3 was simply pragmatic.

"There has been concern about all of these essential frontline workers in a big group, in Group 3, all of a sudden crashing into the system, that that would be problematic," he said. "Starting with a smaller number of Group 3 frontline essential workers helps providers streamline vaccine distribution."

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said providers might go to schools or workplace to administer shots, or they could designate a specific day of the week when only educators or other frontline workers could receive vaccinations. The state's vaccination tracking system will soon allow employers to upload employee information to pre-register them, she said.

Cohen warned, however, that the Feb. 24 and March 10 eligibility dates don't necessarily mean that people will start getting shots then. Some counties have lengthy waiting lists of people in Group 1 or Group 2 still waiting for their shots – Wake County's list has more than 80,000 people, for example – so teachers and other frontline workers will have to wait their turn, she said.

Find out how to get a vaccine in your area.

WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and WRAL anchor/reporter Adam Owens contributed ot this report.

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