NC setting up vaccine hotline as counties work to get shots to seniors
Posted January 5, 2021 2:14 p.m. EST
Updated January 6, 2021 4:13 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — By Wednesday, North Carolina will have a toll-free hotline for coronavirus vaccination information.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said the hotline will provide details on how, when and where people can get vaccinated, as well as answer questions about the vaccine.
“I know I’m getting a lot of, 'Hey, I have this and this issue, can I get the vaccine,'" Cohen said. "So we can answer questions about safety and effectiveness but also to help direct folks – and who should they call in order to know where to go.”
The process to roll out the vaccine statewide has been slow, and Cohen said she hopes the hotline will help clear up any confusion.
So far, about 123,600 people have been vaccinated statewide, including 461 who have received both doses, according to DHHS.
Most of the state is still working through Phase 1A of the national vaccination plan, focusing on health care workers who treat COVID-19 patients and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
County-by-county vaccination plans
The state Department of Health and Human Services has created a phased system to get North Carolina residents vaccinated against coronavirus:
Phase 1A: Health care workers treating COVID-19 patients and staff and residents of long-term care facilities
Phase 1B: Group 1 includes people 75 or older. Group 2 includes other health care workers and "essential" workers, such as first responders, teachers, postal workers, manufacturing workers and supermarket employees, who are 50 or older. Group 3 includes other health care workers and essential workers 49 and younger.
Phase 2: Group 1 includes people ages 65 to 74. Group 2 includes people ages 16 to 64 with medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease, that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. Group 3 includes prison inmates and others in group living settings. Group 4 includes essential workers who haven't been vaccinated yet.
Phase 3: College students and high school students 16 and older.
Phase 4: Everyone else
Some counties have moved into the first part of Phase 1B and are offering vaccinations to people 75 and older.
Vaccinations were underway in Fayetteville on Wednesday at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center on a first come, first served basis. Officials said they’re expecting to reach capacity very quickly and will probably have to turn people away.
In Goldsboro, senior citizens waited in line for hours on Wednesday morning to sign up to get a coronavirus vaccine in the coming days.
Franklin County is getting started on that Thursday, holding a drive-thru clinic from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. outside the county health department. More than 200 people had signed up for the event on Tuesday.
"I am going over there. It’s better to die trying to live than living and end up dying," 79-year-old Louisa Dunston said.
Health Director Scott LaVigne noted Franklin County has about 8,000 residents ages 75 and older.
"The number of people that we have in the age category," LaVigne said, "we don’t have doses enough to vaccinate those people.”
That means more clinics will be scheduled in the coming weeks. People first must sign up by emailing covidVAX@franklincountync.us or by calling 919-496-8113 to confirm their eligibility to get a shot.
Jennie Rowland, 81, said she worries about safety and doesn’t trust the supply chain in making sure the vaccines stay frozen or refrigerated before injections.
"It’s all up in the air,” Rowland said, adding that she plans to remain at home to stay safe. "I’m not going anywhere. I didn’t go out for Thanksgiving. I didn’t go out for Christmas.”
Cohen said people 75 or older should call either their county health department or a local hospital to find out about appointments to get a shot, adding that it may take some time to get one.
“I hope everyone can have just a little patience with us," she said. "Just know that we still have limited supply."
As of last week, about 462,000 doses of the vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna had been shipped to North Carolina. But the state's vaccination data shows that only a quarter of those doses have been used so far.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina has had one of the slowest vaccine rollouts to date, with only 1,162 shots per 100,000 residents. Only 11 states have lower rates.
"Everyone shares that sense of urgency," Cohen said about the effort.
Different communities have different challenges, she said, and some are doing well while others may need more support.
"Some places are full-steam ahead; other places still getting their operations together,” she said. “I think we’ll work through this over the next couple of weeks."
DHHS announced Monday that future allocations of vaccines will be based on local vaccination efforts, meaning giving more shots will lead to bigger deliveries of vaccine.
"We are now ready to release it and to really push it out," LaVigne said of the vaccine. "We are not going to get more until we push more out.”