HENDERSON — The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines across Vance and Granville County continues to unfold now that residents age 65 and up are eligible to be inoculated following the latest guidelines update from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
With many residents in both counties inquiring about the vaccine, Granville Vance Public Health Director Lisa Harrison is asking people to set expectations and be patient, given current capacity limitations at the health department and that the vaccine remain in short supply.
“Vaccinating people 65 and older makes so much sense because we want to make sure we are getting to people who face the highest risk from COVID-19,” Harrison said. “That’s a very large section of our population and our local health department only has 15 nurses, so it’s going to take a few months to get everybody vaccinated.”
Granville-Vance received its first 100 vaccines on Dec. 22, with Granville County regularly obtaining over 100 new doses each week. Vance County receives a few more weekly doses than Granville County due to differences in the demographics of their respective populations.
Harrison said more than 5,000 people contacted the department about the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday morning alone. She’s staffed its hotline with 10 to 15 people from the health department, taking turns to ensure that everyone gets registered.
Frontline workers and the elderly population have been top priority for Granville-Vance Public Health since the vaccine rollout plan was first announced, but Harrison said many essential workers and residents of long-term care facilities have yet to be vaccinated due to the high demand.
For the long-term care facilities that did not apply for or were ineligible to receive federal assistance, responsibility has fallen upon the department to ensure everyone at those facilities are protected from COVID-19.
Harrison wants those age 65 and up, part of Group 2 in the state’s vaccination plan, to sign up for an appointment as soon as possible. But she wants residents to understand that there is only so much Granville Vance can do with the amount of resources at their disposal.
“We’re going to do our job the best way we know how,” Harrison said. “We’ve got an amazing public health staff and incredible nurses who are totally dedicated to this community. Even though we haven’t received any funding, we’re going to do this because we care about the people.”
Another reason Harrison singled out as a cause of the backlog is that Granville-Vance nurses are still in charge of handling the COVID-19 response that includes contact tracing and testing residents for the virus, monitoring potential clusters and guiding people to places where they can get tested.
While Harrison anticipated issues occurring with the rollout due to all of the circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term impacts, she believes the process could have been much smoother if a firm plan had been put in place to help local governments and health departments distribute vaccines.
“There were billions of dollars to help pharmaceutical companies develop the vaccine and billions of dollars for the military to deliver the vaccine,” Harrison said. “However, there was no communication at the local level from the federal level about the distribution of the vaccine. I think we’re doing an incredible job at getting the vaccine out the door, but it just takes a minute.”
As another COVID-19 surge continues across North Carolina, Harrison and the staff at the health department have come up with a system designed to issue them in an effective manner known as “The Three Ss,” which are safety, supply and second dose.
Recipients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are required to receive two doses to be fully protected from COVID-19. The second dose of the Pfizer shot is supposed to take place three weeks after the first. Moderna’s takes a four-week interval.
Granville-Vance Public Health has started scheduling appointments for residents to obtain their second dose, but Harrison said her staff still has to pay attention to safety and supply so everyone is protected from the virus and that vaccines do not run out before the next shipment arrives.
Although vaccines still remain in short supply, Harrison said more residents will be able to get them from their primary care physician or local pharmacy as soon as more become available once the older adults in Group 2 are taken care of.
Frontline essential workers crucial to the functioning of the economy who are an elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure will be next up on the vaccination plan, but Harrison has noticed some residents express confusion over whether or not they meet the guidelines for inclusion in that category.
She said Granville-Vance intends to follow all state guidelines with distributions until the pandemic subsides.
“Everybody is important,” Harrison said. “Anyone who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine, and we will make sure that happens, but it’s just not going to happen tomorrow.”
Vaccines are also available from Maria Parham Health, Granville Primary Care or on the campus of the Granville Medical Center. Further information about COVID-19 vaccines can be found at https://gvph.org/covidvaccines.
Granville Health System officials said the drive-in clinic at Granville Primary Care & OB/GYN in Oxford, at 110 Professional Park Drive on the campus of Granville Medical Center, administered more than 2,600 vaccinations over the weekend.
GHS will continue offering COVID-19 vaccinations on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — by appointment, and at the moment all slots are booked — for the remainder of January from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. for those 65 years and older, provided the vaccine is made available to the system.
As of Monday, 2,699 people in Granville County and 1,506 people in Vance County had received at least the first dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines, with 349 and 61, respectively, having also gotten the second, DHHS reported.