Pitt County’s health department is launching an online wait list for people who want to receive the Moderna coronavirus vaccine, authorities said during a Wednesday media briefing.
Registering doesn’t automatically guarantee an appointment time, said Amy Hattem, deputy director of public health. Individuals on the wait list will be contacted at a later time to schedule an appointment. The registry will be available Thursday afternoon at pittcountync.gov.
“We heard the community, we understand the frustration but we do want individuals to understand we cannot schedule clinics until we have the vaccine,” Hattem said.
The COVID hotline began malfunctioning when it was overwhelmed by the number of people calling about scheduling an appointment when a clinic for people 75 and older was announced. People were getting busy signals or their calls were dropped, Hattem said.
The health department was reluctant to establish a wait list or signup system because it didn’t have the staffing capacity to call people to schedule appointments, she said.
Pitt County Manager Scott Elliott has worked with other county department heads to set up an expanded call center in the emergency operations center located in the basement of the main county office building. People from other departments will work with health department staff to call people and set up appointments once additional vaccines are available, she said.
“We realize there are many members of this senior population who may not be able to access the online form so we will offer telephone sign up,” Hattem said. Details about that service will be released at a later time.
Prior to Wednesday, the health department received 1,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine and has administered 1,160 doses, said Dr. John Silvernail, public health director. The remaining 240 doses will be administered at two long-term residential care facilities, he said.
The department received an additional 600 doses of the vaccine on Wednesday, Silvernail said. It will be among health care providers in 80 practices across the county for people 75 and older. About 9,000 in the age group live in Pitt County.
Planning vaccination clinics has been frustrating because a routine schedule for receiving doses hasn’t been established. The 600 doses the county received Wednesday were originally suppose to arrive on Monday, Silvernail said.
Guidance for administering the vaccine to different groups has also been a moving target, he said. The state health director reported Tuesday that the time table published Dec. 30 may be delayed since the state hasn’t fully covered administering the vaccine to health care provides and the 75 and older age group.
“I share their frustration. I wish I had a vaccination for everyone right now,” Silvernail said. However, Vidant Health is also vaccinating health care workers, faculty and staff at ECU Physicians and is using its medical records system to reach out to people in the community to vaccinate them.
Silvernail said Vidant and his agency are working to open a large capacity vaccination center in the next two works.
The health department and East Carolina University’s health sciences have developed a mobile vaccine team that will provide vaccines to 40 long-term care facilities that did not receive vaccine doses directly from the federal government.
The team should begin work this week at two smaller facilities and will continue as the supply allows, Silvernail said.
He’s also talking with the health department contract staff about adding hours so vaccination clinics can be offered during the weekend.
“A lot of our small businesses, really the heart of the community, will need vaccinations going forward and we would really like to try and serve them so it’s friendly for the business,” he said.
The health department also will start administering the second dose of the Moderna vaccine next week, he said. It’s not as long a process, as getting the first shot because the screening work is already completed, Silvernail said. However, it still requires staff which is limited.
“We are at least on the right path at this point,” he said.
Return of students
Silvernail said he hopes the county continues down that path as ECU students arrive on campus next week.
“It would be disingenuous at this point to say that this doesn’t give me a little heartburn,” Silvernail said.
He pleased with the work ECU administers and his office have been doing to prepare for the return.
Students returning to campus have to receive a negative COVID before they arrive, Silvernail said. As of last week, there’s only been a 1.6 percent positive rate among students who have tested, he said.
ECU is keeping classroom capacity at 30 percent, most classes will be online and students will live alone in their dorm room.
The university also has rooms set aside to house students who test positive or have to go into isolation because they have been exposed to someone who has COVID.
About 1,100 students tested positive for COVID in the fall, resulting in the university shutting down the dorms, sending students home and implementing online only classes.
He believes that experience will motivate students to follow guidelines and no risk exposure by attending large parties.
Silvernail said he believes the student infection rate may have been two or three times higher but individuals did not seek testing because they were asymptomatic.
All the stills still have antibodies in their systems that should reduce the spread.
“I am uneasy but I feel there is a good plan in place,” he said.