MOREHEAD CITY — As the demand for COVID-19 vaccinations continues to exceed available doses, Carteret County Health Department Director Stephanie Cannon appealed to the public for patience.
“Simply put, we do not have enough vaccine to meet the demand at this time. We are asking for the public’s patience as we are getting this vaccine out as quickly as we receive,” she said Monday during the County Consolidated Human Services Board meeting.
“We have shut down all of our clinics and diverted our clinical and clinical support staff to COVID vaccinations,” she continued. “We have brought in additional Carteret County Health Department and county staff to help work through the backlog of calls.”
A call center has been established at the County Emergency Communications Center to assist the health department.
Ms. Cannon appealed to those who have already called or completed the online registration form for vaccines to not continue calling the center.
“If persons have already called the health department and/or completed the online form on the county website, there is nothing else they need to do,” she said. “We have a team working to process all of these calls and forms. We are putting people on a list for when we receive more vaccine and will call them when we can set up an appointment.”
The health department began vaccinating those 75 years of age and older Monday. Health officials began scheduling appointments Jan. 7 for that age group, and by Jan. 8 announced they could not accept any more appointments.
“We have received a total of 700 doses and expect to receive another 100 doses this week at the health department,” she said. “By the end of Friday, Jan. 15, we will have exhausted all of the vaccine sent to the health department.”
Ms. Cannon added that she did not yet know how many doses the department will receive next week.
“We do not find out about the following week’s vaccine allotment until Thursday or Friday of each week,” she said. “This makes scheduling appointments difficult because we do not know from week-to-week what we will be receiving. We do not control how much vaccine we receive. This is decided at the state level based on allocations received in North Carolina.”
Ms. Cannon said the health department is partnering with Carteret Health Care to address Phase 1a, which includes health care workers in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, health workers administering the vaccine and staff and residents of long-term care facilities, and Phase 1b, group 1 populations.
In addition, she said the state Monday opened up enrollment for private health care providers to sign on as vaccination sites. She encouraged residents to contact their medical providers and ask them to sign on.
“We want vaccine as widespread as possible,” she said.
Board member Dr. Greg Reichert, a physician, said his office planned to enroll to administer vaccines and “I hope every doctor’s office that is capable will as well.”
Dr. Reichert encouraged people to not be afraid to get vaccinated.
“I want to dispel some of the rumors that are out there,” he said.
Dr. Reichert said the mRNA vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, give cells an mRNA blueprint to make a piece of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This triggers an immune response. The mRNA is then quickly broken down.
“It doesn’t affect our DNA,” he said.
He added, “These aren’t live vaccines and they don’t use whole or partial pathogens. They can’t cause COVID-19 infection.”
Dr. Reichert said vaccines using a mRNA platform have been studied for more than a decade for conditions such as cancer, influenza, MERS and more.
“COVID-19 vaccine trials are large, similar to other vaccines,” he continued. “These vaccines became available quickly. Some steps occurred simultaneously, but were not skipped. For instance, manufacturing began while waiting for trial results.”
Dr. Reichert, who has received both doses of the vaccine, said he had some mild symptoms for about a day following his second dose, but nothing major. He said patients can expect injection site pain and some may experience fatigue and aches. All of his symptoms resolved.
“I like to remind patients that these can be signs the immune system is working building the defense,” he said.
Early data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate the first 1.9 million doses showed 21 cases of severe reaction to the shot, according to Dr. Reichert.
“Of those 21 people, 81 percent had a history of such reaction,” he said.
He further said studies have shown the vaccine is about 95% effective against COVID-19. He pointed to Pfizer-BioNTech trial data that included more than 43,000 people over a two-month period. The study showed 162 symptomatic, confirmed COVID-19 cases in the placebo group versus eight in the vaccinated group.
“We’ll learn more about real-world effectiveness, such as how long immunity lasts,” Dr. Reichert said.
He admitted there is no data yet to show the long-term effects of the vaccination simply because it’s not been used before. However, he said the effects of COVID-19 can be much more serious and he highly recommended people get vaccinated as soon as doses are available.
Ms. Cannon agreed, saying cases in the county and state are quickly increasing.
“We will continue to see the impacts from the holidays in the coming weeks,” she said. “For the week ending Jan. 2, our percent positive rate was over 10 percent. This is the highest rate we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic. We are seeing more COVID hospitalizations at Carteret Health Care and this trend is occurring in other regional and statewide hospital systems. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure we are doing our part to slow the spread in our community.”
Ms. Cannon said N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen is recommending persons only leave home for essential services, such as work, school, health care and purchasing food.
“For those 65 and older or at high risk for severe illness, you should avoid leaving your home and use special delivery services, pick-up methods or work with family and friends to get necessary supplies,” Ms. Cannon said.
She added that people should avoid gathering with those outside of their household, wear a mask and keep distancing from others when leaving home.
“Lastly, persons should avoid any indoor public spaces where people are not wearing masks and stay away from crowds and large gatherings,” Ms. Cannon said.
As for those 75 and older interested in getting on the waiting list for a vaccination who have not yet done so, they can all 252-728-8550, option 2, or complete an online form at carteretcountync.gov/FormCenter/Health-Department-11/COVID19-Vaccine-Request-Form-104.
County officials ask that those coming to get vaccines remember to bring a photo ID and dress in clothing that will allow vaccinators to easily access their arms.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.