Residents in Alamance, Franklin Counties Experience Long Wait Times To Get Vaccinated
As some places in North Carolina enter the next phase of COVID vaccinations, people who are wanting to get vaccinated are experiencing long wait times.
North Carolina is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccination plan, meaning those who are 75 or older are able to get vaccinated.
However, there's been complaints from some folks about disorganization and excessive delays at the various vaccination centers across the state.
The car line for Burlington's makeshift vaccination center wrapped around the Career and Technical Education Center on Thursday, through a neighborhood and into an intersection. The line moved slowly as some had been in line for two to three hours, like resident Ilona Flowers who is 76.
"I was here at 11:30 a.m., so I guess actually, that's more like two hours," she said. "I knew the beginning time was 12:30 p.m. and I thought I'll get here enough (ahead of time) so that I can be in line. So I was I felt fortunate that I was not that far away. But it indeed, it's a process."
In some ways, health departments are in a race against the coronavirus. Friday marked the second consecutive day of 10,000 new cases and 100 deaths in North Carolina. There were almost 4,000 hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Tar Heel State, almost double the figure since just Dec. 1.
"The situation is so critical that last week the federal government said that if you were with people that you don't live with, you should assume that you've become infected with COVID and you're a danger to others," North Carolina Health Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said at a recent briefing.
Cohen has issued a secretarial directive for all North Carolinians to stay home, except for essential business.
Alamance County health officials have distributed 540 vaccinations, roughly one every minute, every day since they opened.
However, when they meet capacity, they've had to turn people away. Capacity is determined by current staffing, traffic patterns and safety concerns. That's been the case multiple times throughout the week. The married couple of Dennis and Molly Foster, both 75, said they were lucky they weren't turned away on their third visit to the center.
"Yesterday morning, we left home about 5:30 a.m., got here and they were lined up all the way down Church Street and we just said, 'You know, we'll just come back,'" Molly said.
Her husband said they tried again later in the day but were cut off by officials. They tried again and were able to get the Pfizer vaccine.
To combat the long wait times and having to turn people away, the Alamance County Health Department will begin taking appointments for those in Phase 1B as well as anyone in Phase 1A –first responders and healthcare workers—who were unable to get vaccinated.
The county will open a COVID-19 vaccine registration hotline beginning on Friday that will be available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to schedule appointments. Vaccines will no longer be served on a first-come first-serve basis in Alamance.
Franklin County's health department held its first vaccination event on Thursday too and – just like in Burlington – the line of cars was long and snaked around the health department building in Louisburg. It was the first day the county offered the vaccine to anyone over the age of 75, or the first day of Phase 1B. Franklin resident Kay Hunt said she and her husband are ready to get back to something closer to normal.
"I'm just wanting to get this over with. I'm wanting to get this COVID vaccine, hopefully to protect both of us," she said. "Well, it's going to take a while. We realize this is not a miracle thing immediately. So, we realize this is going to take a while before we can resume. And it may be months, I don't know."
Hunt said she and her husband have been very cautious for months, knowing they were considered high risk. They're looking forward to going out to eat again and taking a step toward normalcy.
The Franklin County Health Department inoculated 323 people on Thursday afternoon. Except for a bit of traffic backup, things went smoothly, according to Franklin Health Director Scott LaVigne.
"This was not our first choice for locations to do it. But really, the vaccine that we had to deploy to start with, which is the Pfizer vaccine, really dictated that we deploy from here," LaVigne said.
The Franklin Health Department doesn't have the cold storage capability, so it keeps the vaccine on dry ice, which limited the location choices. The county has moved a lot of the registration process online.
"That's the way we're doing it to make sure that anybody that gets in line is going to be able to get a vaccine," LaVigne said. I don't want to send anybody away, and that was our goal: As little time in line as possible; nobody gets sent away without a vaccine. If they're registered."
LaVigne acknowledged vaccinations will need to be ramped up. There are between 6,000 and 8,000 Franklin County residents over 75. And remember: the vaccine requires two doses.
While pharmaceutical companies are now churning out doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, there's a backlog to actually getting that vaccine into the arms of Americans. North Carolina is among the slowest states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At a recent health briefing, Cohen said some counties need more help than others.
"And there's a myriad of kinds of support that they need some they need vaccinators, some, they just need back end support on their IT systems or data entry, or they just need help answering the phones to make appointments," Cohen said.
LaVigne said he wants to ramp up vaccinations quickly. Franklin County will run another vaccination event this Tuesday.
"We know based on the calls and the emails that are coming in that there's a huge demand for this. So people have gotten the message that the vaccine is safe, the vaccine is here and they want it," LaVigne said. "And so with those two things in place, we're going to do everything we can to make sure we get it in their arms."
In Burlington, Public Information Officer John Vernon still urges residents to be patient during this process.
"I just stress please be patient and do not come if you're not in the phase that we are vaccinating and everyone will get a vaccine who wants a vaccine."
WUNC's Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.