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COVID-19 Vaccines Are Headlining At PNC Arena In Raleigh

Patients wait in their cars to get first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Will Michaels
Patients wait in their cars to get first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at PNC Arena in Raleigh

Wake County opened another mass COVID-19 vaccination site Thursday at PNC Arena in Raleigh. Clinics like this one are designed to inoculate thousands of people per week if North Carolina’s weekly supply remains consistent.

Before the pandemic, the 8,000-space parking lot at the arena would have been filling up with fans at this time of year coming to watch Carolina Hurricanes hockey, N.C. State basketball or a concert.  But on this drizzly morning, the people stayed in their cars.

They registered at one drive-up tent, got their vaccine shot at the next, and then parked for 15 minutes with EMTs standing by to make sure they didn’t have any adverse reactions.

Chris Nickerson of Fuquay-Varina was in the passenger seat of her cousin’s Acura with the music turned up to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” The 71-year-old got her first dose and there’s a sense of relief in her voice.

“Oh, it gives me hope that I can get back to life again,” Nickerson said.

An hour into the first day of vaccinations at the arena, Wake County’s pharmacy director Jason Wittes said operations were going smoothly. He expects health care workers to vaccinate more than 2,000 people at this site in two days this week, a rate that would have been impossible just two weeks ago.

But in North Carolina, vaccinating people quickly has not meant that they are getting vaccinated equitably. Only 16% of patients statewide who have gotten at least one dose are Black or Hispanic, but those groups make up 31% of the state’s population.

Wittes said Wake County is trying to change that by prioritizing people who live in zip codes where more of the population are in vulnerable or historically marginalized groups. He said the gap is closing for Wake County’s Black community, but not its Hispanic community.

“So we have to do a better job there with hesitancy, training, education and working more closely with those outreach groups,” Wittes said.

Durham resident Jainil Shah crossed the county line to get his shot at PNC Arena. He works for Siemens in Raleigh, and qualifies as a health care worker to get vaccinated in Wake County.

“In Durham County, nobody picks up the phone. The website keeps crashing, so it’s really hard to get an appointment,” Shah said. “My wife is pregnant, but I wanted to wait a month or so to just give everyone else a chance and get in.”

High-volume clinics like this one depend on consistent supply and distribution. Durham had planned to open one this month, but the county’s health director says it’s on hold because his department is only getting 600 doses a week.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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