Local News

Frontline workers across NC flock to vaccination clinics

Posted March 3, 2021 6:51 a.m. EST
Updated March 3, 2021 7:33 p.m. EST

— Thousands of "essential" workers in North Carolina sought coronavirus vaccinations on Wednesday, the first day they were eligible under an accelerated schedule announced Tuesday by Gov. Roy Cooper.

"I was definitely ready for this shot," said State Highway Patrol Trooper Bennie Pulliam, who drove from Franklin County to Benson for a drive-thru vaccination clinic held at West Johnston High School.

Cooper said a growing supply of vaccine, bolstered by the first shipment of a vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, and declining numbers of health care workers, senior citizens and educators seeking shots meant North Carolina was ready to open vaccinations up to the bulk of Group 3 on the state's priority list.

Group 3 includes people who work in person in the following sectors: critical manufacturing, education, essential goods, food and agriculture, government and community services, health care and public health, public safety and transportation. The list means grocery store and restaurant employees, first responders, postal workers and those who work on farms or in food processing plants can now get vaccinated.

The change affects an estimated 1 million people in North Carolina. While more people are now able to get vaccines, availability will vary from county to county.

Wake County had only about 250 people on its vaccination waiting list Tuesday, but after opening its online registration system to Group 3 workers on Tuesday evening, some 13,000 people signed up. All 11,000 appointments at three clinics the county is holding this week are now filled.

“The only thing they asked for was my driver’s license. Nobody even asked where I worked," said Monica Needam, a school administrator who signed up last week when teachers first became eligible and got vaccinated on Wednesday.

While the state doesn't require people to provide proof of employment to be vaccinated, Ryan Jury, who oversees Wake County's vaccination efforts, said the county is recommending Group 3 workers to bring some work identification in case there are any problems with the registration.

"When it’s an occupational-based group, we do ask at times for them to show their work ID," he said.

The Johnston County Health Department administered nearly 1,600 shots at its drive-thru clinic Wednesday, and county spokeswoman Lu Hickey said they were fine with whoever showed up from Groups 1, 2 or 3 of the state's priority list, as long as they were North Carolina residents.

"Most of the time, when folks are coming through, we have people asking them [their employment]," Hickey said. "Most of the people will tell you, 'Here’s my ID, and I work for a grocer or a warehouse or transportation.'"

Pulliam, the state trooper, said he had COVID-19 in November and was sick for 17 days. He wanted to be vaccinated so he wouldn't go through it again.

"I never had any hesitation. I knew I wanted to get it over with," he said. "I was pretty happy that they told me to get my vaccine today."

Shepard Lynn Hockaday, who works on engineering for various construction projects, said he was likewise excited to get his first vaccination.

"I feel blessed to have been healthy so far, and I think this just builds that confidence. I feel really good," Hockaday said.

"I get a text when [clinics] are happening, and I got one today that said the lines are minimal. I came in and out, and it was smooth sailing," said Cricket Lane, an educator.

"We’re putting ourselves out there every day. You want to protect not just yourself but everybody you come in contact with. I highly recommend people get their vaccination," Lane said.

Johnston County had 2,000 doses available for the clinic, and Hickey said the 400-plus doses that were left when it ended will be distributed to other local providers.

"Those will be passed along or transferred to our partners, which can be pharmacies, physicians, hospitals [or] mobile units," she said. "Doses will not go to waste by any stretch. We want to get the vaccine in as many arms as possible that qualify at this point."

Halifax and Wayne counties also started allowing anyone covered under Group 3 to sign up for a shot on Wednesday. Both counties asked people to register for an appointment online.

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