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Health Team

Duke nurses give 200 vaccinations in Durham's first mass clinic

Posted January 19, 2021 5:16 a.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2021 5:46 p.m. EST

— Some 200 people ages 65 and up got their first dose of coronavirus vaccine Tuesday during Durham's first mass clinic.

"It does feel different. It really does," 69-year-old Steve McEwen, of Raleigh, said after getting his shot. "I feel a little safer. I know we can’t lose the mask – we have to be just as vigilant as we were before – but I feel safer that I can be around my grandkids."

The clinic was the first of many planned for Southern High School, at 800 Clayton Road, under a partnership among the Durham County Department of Public Health, Duke University Health System and Durham Public Schools.

"This is a site we’re looking to have open as long as we have the need in this community to keep it open," Duke Regional Hospital President Katie Galbraith said. "It’s part of our responsibility as part of this community ... to make sure we get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible."

The mass vaccination clinics will operate 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. every weekday, Galbraith said, noting that it will eventually vaccinate several hundred people each day.

"It is pulling from our team members who are already stretched at the hospitals and the health departments, but we are going to make it happen because it’s important for our communities," she said. "We will get to everyone who wants it over time."

But the crush of people wanting a shot now and the fact that the clinics are vaccinating only those who have set up an appointment through the health department has caused frustration for many.

A woman who identified herself only as "Eileen" said she called the appointment line more than 100 times on two different phones over five hours to get an appointment for her husband.

"I just kept dialing those numbers," Eileen said. "Several times, it said the number was not in service. Several times, it said it couldn't take your call now. But most of the time, it just kept ringing.

"Everything we’re doing is exactly what they asked us to do," she added. "They asked us to go through this process to get the vaccine, and no one is getting through, so that’s not fair."

Galbraith and Durham County Health Director Rod Jenkins asked people to be patient as staffers try to handle a large call volume.

"It may be difficult to get through at first, but please keep trying. We will provide vaccines to all as soon as possible," Jenkins said.

"That has to be incredibly frustrating for people to be calling multiple times. That’s not what we want," Galbraith said. "We have staffed up to try to manage that phone volume, but demand is just so high."

The county's appointment scheduling line is at 919-560-HELP (919-560-4357) and is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. People also can register on Duke MyChart to make an appointment.

Officials said they are scheduling appointments through April 30 but could schedule beyond that later, if needed.

Southern High was chosen as the site for the vaccination clinics because it's in a minority neighborhood, Galbraith said. State health officials have been trying to boost access to virus information and vaccinations in such "historically marginalized" communities.

"We wanted Southern, in particular, which is located in an area where we thought we could draw more from some of those neighborhoods," Galbraith said.

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