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Wake officials wish mass vaccination clinic at PNC Arena could be much larger

Posted February 11, 2021 4:41 a.m. EST
Updated February 11, 2021 5:10 p.m. EST

— Hundreds of seniors and health care workers got their first dose of coronavirus vaccine Thursday outside PNC Arena in Raleigh, where Wake County held its first drive-thru, appointment-only mass vaccination clinic.

The clinic was held in the arena’s 8,000-space parking lot, with about 1,000 shots being administered. A 1,200-shot clinic is scheduled for Saturday, but all appointments has already been filled by people on the county's growing waiting list.

“This is really going to help us cut into our wait list and make a big difference," said Matt Calabria, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, noting some 80,000 people are on the list.

"It is important that we have capacity to deliver and to vaccinate people commensurate with the number of doses coming in," Calabria said. "Once we get more vaccine, we can ramp this up even further."

The event was largely run by Wake County Public Health and volunteers, including nurses from the Duke University Health System and UNC Rex Hospital and retired health care workers and managers looking to help on the front lines.

"It's an honor to be at the patient's side versus being in the office," said Rebecca Blake from UNC Rex. "We're very happy to be here and give our time."

The Raleigh Fire Department also pitched in, setting up a tent to monitor people for at least 15 minutes after they were vaccinated.

After getting their shots, people were able to schedule their second-dose appointment while on site.

All doses given at the clinic were from the county's vaccine allotment from the state. The site will continue operating in future weeks as vaccine allocations and partnerships allow.

"Our operations are proportional to the amount of doses we are getting in," Calabria said. "It doesn’t matter whether we have one site or 100 sites, if we are administering all the doses that are coming in, that is maximum speed."

Wake County officials are negotiating with state officials to get more doses, he said, adding that "big ships turn slowly."

“We do expect our numbers to improve overall on a week-by-week basis," he said.

Carolina Hurricanes General Manager Don Waddell said that, after seeing Charlotte host a mass vaccination site at Bank of America Stadium, PNC Arena wanted to get involved.

“We are proud to be a part of this community and recognize the heartbreaking impact this pandemic has had for so many of its citizens,” Waddell said. “PNC Arena has ample space to serve as a mass-vaccination venue, and we want to do everything we can to help Wake County in its fight against COVID-19."

The Bank of America mass vaccination effort covered about 20,000 people over a weekend. A separate clinic at Charlotte Motor Speedway last month served another 16,000.

Wake County's vaccine allotments have been low relative to its population when compared with some others in North Carolina.

"At our current rate of doses being allocated to us, we still have a ways to go," said Jason Wittes, the county's pharmacy director, noting the lengthy waiting list. "If we get some special doses from the state, we will be at a much better place."

The waiting list will get much longer in the coming weeks, too, as teachers and other school personnel can start signing up Feb. 24, followed on March 10 by by police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, bus drivers and workers in grocery stores and the agriculture and manufacturing industries.

Wake County officials have asked the state for 10,000 doses for another clinic at PNC Arena, but they haven't heard back.

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