There’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon for the fight against COVID-19. Vaccines have been rolling out for those most vulnerable, and healthcare workers say vaccination is the number one thing we can do right now to save lives and slow the spread.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) began its COVID-19 vaccination clinics in January and they are fully underway for first and second doses. Community members in Groups 1 and 2 of North Carolina’s rollout plan are currently receiving vaccines – frontline healthcare workers and those age 65 and over.
As of February 5, ARHS has given a total of 3,504 first-dose vaccines and has used 100% of the supply it has received from the state. After a drastic reduction in weekly supply to Watauga County, only 190 first-dose vaccines were scheduled for the week of February 8-12 through ARHS.
Wednesday, Governor Cooper announced a plan to move into Group 3 soon to include teachers, principals, childcare providers, bus drivers, custodial staff, cafeteria workers, and other education workers in pre-K through 12 schools and childcare centers.
But with supplies so limited, the healthcare system is concerned about adding this group to the already long list of those 65 and older waiting their turn. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), people age 65 and older account for 70% of hospitalizations and 83% of deaths in the state.
“We are administering the vaccines as fast as we receive them from the state. We are ready to handle several times the number of appointments we currently have; all we need are the doses in order to scale up our efforts and vaccinate more people,” said Chuck Mantooth, President and CEO of ARHS.
Thanks to a partnership with Watauga County Parks and Recreation, ARHS is using the Watauga County Community Recreation Center building. They have plenty of space, plenty of staff, and plenty of volunteers. What they need now are the vaccines.
“With the system and patient flow we have set up, we could easily administer 1,000 first doses and 1,000 second doses per week or more,” said Sean Burroughs, Director of Pharmacy at ARHS.
A total of 75 community volunteers have assisted with the Recreation Center clinics so far, and many more want to help. Most volunteer spots are full because of the limited supply, but the healthcare system is hoping to be able to schedule more clinics and use more people in these roles.
Volunteer Mary Scott served by escorting patients to their vaccine station after check-in. “The conversations I have had with people during these clinics has been so wonderful. I enjoy talking with folks and helping them feel more comfortable about the whole process. Several people told me how they were so impressed with how organized, relaxed and friendly everyone was,” she said.
ARHS continues to work together with the Appalachian District Health Department (AppHealthCare) and state health officials to formulate a plan for Group 3 vaccinations when the time comes.
For more information about ARHS’s COVID-19 efforts, including testing and vaccines, visit apprhs.org/covid19.