By Emily Featherston | December 29, 2020 at 6:11 PM EST – Updated December 29 at 7:26 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – As the third week of North Carolina’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine continues, hospitals and health departments are making their way through the list of eligible healthcare workers as pharmacy chains begin getting doses into long-term care facilities.
Statewide, more than 63,500 vaccines have gone into the arms of front-line workers—a figure provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as of 8 p.m. Dec. 28.
The department notes the figure is potentially up to 72 hours behind the actual number, as it takes some hospitals and departments longer to report their most recent data.
But it is still closing in on the initial 85,000 doses the state hoped to get out to front-line healthcare workers in the first wave, and it doesn’t include any doses that have gone out to long-term care facilities, according to the state website.
Novant Health, which operates Brunswick Medical Center, reported they’ve vaccinated roughly 7,700 staff members—about 46% of their Phase 1A workers—putting it ahead of it’s initial goal, which was to vaccinate 6,825 of its 29,000 employees by year’s end.
In the Cape Fear region, things are mostly on track as well.
As of Monday night, New Hanover Regional Medical Center had vaccinated around 3,200 staff members, which Chief Clinical Officer Dr. West Paul said is good progress.
“I’ll have to give credit to the team that’s doing this, they have done a remarkable job. It’ll put us up against anyone in the state that has been able to roll this out,” he said. “I think we’re doing a lot better than a lot of places at 3200…I mean, we’ve done this in about a week and a little bit more and we’re getting the vast majority of the people on the front lines.”
County health departments, which received shipments of the Moderna vaccine, also continue to vaccinate front-line employees such as emergency medical personnel, firefighters, police offers and others that may come into contact with COVID-19 patients.
New Hanover County spokesperson Kate Oelslager said they had distributed approximately 600 doses of the vaccine as of Monday.
“This includes people at highest risk of exposure—healthcare staff caring for individuals with COVID-19, those testing for and/or vaccinating against COVID-19, funeral home staff that works directly with decedents, and long-term care staff and residents,” she said in an email Tuesday.
In Brunswick County, spokesperson Meagan Kascsak said the county had administered all 200 doses it received in its first shipment, and is working on scheduling doses of its second.
Pender County reported giving 83 vaccines so far, though the county had only done a couple days of vaccinations prior to the Christmas holiday, and is scheduled to resume the process on Wednesday, Dec. 30.
Paul said the next hurdle, barring any changes to the state’s distribution plan, will be to begin giving the second dose of the vaccine to those who have already had one, while at the same time still giving first doses to staff members who haven’t received theirs yet.
“We’re going to have to kind of double up on the clinics as we start going through. So that’s a little bit…logistically, we’re trying to figure out how that is best to be done. We want the shortest time frame to get our people immune as soon as possible and vaccinated.”
Dr. Paul said we will begin seeing the benefit of vaccinating healthcare workers in the next several weeks, as the surge of cases from the holidays takes shape.
“Just law of averages—your employees are going to start getting that,” he said “not from the hospital, I still say the hospital is the safest place to be right now, [but it] is probably from the community with 20% of the community now beginning to test positive. So yeah, we’ll see pretty quickly with that the efficacy of this vaccine.”
Paul said the 20% positive rate is from testing done at NHRMC system facilities, and the worst of the holiday spread is yet to come.
That surge, he said, can’t be stopped by the vaccine at this point, so he hopes people don’t interpret the rising cases as a failure on the part of the vaccine itself.
“They have to understand when they hear hospital numbers going up, it’s not that the vaccine is not effective. It is effective, but what we’re going to see in the next two-to-four, to eight weeks, the vaccine can’t stop.”
Paul said he and his colleagues are also concerned about the speed with which the vaccine is going out—while things are on track in the Cape Fear region, they are concerned about the overall progress in the United States.
“We’ve been waiting for months, we need to accelerate this the best we can,” he said. “I think as we learn, and we move faster, that’s what’s going to help us, but we cannot lose sight that we’ve got the vaccine but until we get it into people’s arms, it’s not going to work and we really need to focus that. We need to get this done.”
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