HENDERSON — The first community vaccinations against COVID-19 in Vance County have started taking place at Maria Parham Health, which moved into Phase 1b of North Carolina’s inoculation plan on Tuesday.

Maria Parham Marketing and Communications Director Donna Young said the hospital’s leaders had been patiently waiting for the arrival of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and are confident the initial vaccines will be the first step towards curtailing the number of cases in Vance County.

“We have administered 581 vaccines to date, and the second-round doses of the vaccine are scheduled to begin on Jan. 20,” Young said. “We are distributing the COVID-19 vaccines in accordance with prioritization guidance from the CDC, the federal government and our state. We also recognize that the authorized passing and release of vaccine is in flux based on government policy, but we have a dedicated Vaccine Task Force to navigate the changes.”

The COVID-19 pandemic remains a large-scale problem in the United States and around the world since the first cases were reported in Wuhan, China in Dec. 2019. Nearly 2 million people have died worldwide from the virus, with the U.S. leading all other countries in the death toll with 388,000.

Nearly 7,700 of those deaths have occurred in North Carolina, but with millions of COVID-19 vaccinations ready to be distributed, Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services have unveiled a phased plan to get residents vaccinated.

In Vance County, there have been 3,149 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 69 deaths because of the virus. As of Jan. 6, 12.1% of the residents who were tested for the virus in the previous two weeks had proven to have it.

Health care workers who directly deal with patients who have COVID-19 and administer the vaccine, along with long-term care staff and residents were the first to get vaccinated in Phase 1a, while adults over the age of 75 are the next to receive the vaccine in Phase 1b’s “Group 1.”

Due to the number of people in need of the vaccine, Phase 1b has been divided into three parts, with those 75 and older taking precedence in Group 1. Health care workers who have in-patient contact and frontline essential employees over the age of 50 make up Group 2. The final group will consist of health care and essential employees of all ages.

Maria Parham is currently taking appointments for individuals in Phase 1b, Group 1. No one will be denied a vaccine, even if they lack insurance coverage, and all patients will not have any out-of-pocket expenses pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Phase 2 of the vaccination plan will explicitly focus on adults who have an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 and will also be divided into groups. Students will be vaccinated in Phase 3, while everyone else who wishes to receive the vaccine can do so in Phase 4.

Young said hospital officials know there are residents who have concerns about taking the vaccine, and about its rollout, but she is asking people to stay patient, listen to the science and maintain proper social distancing guidelines until they are able to make an appointment.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is here, and though it will take some time to get our entire community vaccinated, our team is encouraged that an end to the pandemic is within reach,” Young said. “Once the vaccine is widely available, we encourage everyone to literally roll up their sleeves and choose to get vaccinated. Let’s put the pandemic behind us and get back to the things we love.”

As of Jan. 11, 634 residents of Vance County had received the first of two doses of the vaccine, and 44 had gotten both doses, according to the DHHS.

Appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine at Maria Parham can be made by calling 252-436-1693 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on any day except Saturday and Sunday.

Vaccinations will be administered at Maria Parham’s COVID Vaccine Clinic, located on 566 Ruin Creek Road, on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9:45 a.m. to 2 p.m.