The Pitt County Health Department worked through the weekend to make sure the first clinic to vaccinate the public against COVID-19 would be successful.
The preparation paid off.
On Monday, 230 seniors were vaccinated at the Pitt County Agricultural Center over a seven-hour stretch. All were 75 years or older and had nabbed their chance to receive the vaccination last Thursday, when the clinic was announced.
“Today we continued our journey on the road to the end of COVID-19 by beginning the vaccination of the general public,” said Dr. John Silvernail, Pitt County health director.
Amy Hattem, the health department’s deputy director and head of health education and public information, said employees have been vaccinating front-line workers — including health care and long-term care employees — for several weeks.
When the health department realized there would be vaccination does left over, the clinic was organized, Hattem said.
“We realized there were about 230 doses left,” she said of the Moderna vaccine. “We did not want to sit on the vaccine and wait until we had more. We wanted to get it out as quickly as we could.”
The health department issued a news release on Thursday, asking people to call and make an appointment, Hattem said.
“Those appointments filled within less than three hours. It was quick,” she said.
Hattem said the department has continued to receive calls, which overwhelmed its phone system.
“Our phones have been ringing so much, we hare having to modify and expand our phone system,” she said. “We have four phone lines and they will not accommodate all the calls.”
The vaccination clinic presented challenges for health department workers.
“We had four days to put this clinic in place,” Hattem said. “This is a first for us — even when we have done flu clinics, we were not socially distancing participants.”
Setting appointments was essential since they were dealing with an elderly population, she said.
“We knew we had enough staff to do eight to 10 vaccines every 15 minutes,” Hattem said. “It would take several hours to wait in line if we did a come-one, come-all.”
Those getting vaccines were grouped according to their time slot. They were given appointment hangtags and the National Guard helped direct people according to their appointment times.
“We do the paperwork in the car, we do the all education in the car, then we escort them inside to get the vaccine. We are keeping them distanced as much as we can,” Hattem said.
Once vaccinated, shot recipients waited 15 to 30 minutes.
“We have wheelchairs to get them in if they need that, we have staff that escort them in and take them to every station they need to go,” she added. “We have had 100 percent show-rate today. Everybody has kept their appointment up until now.”
Hattem said the health department is scheduled to get more vaccines this week.
“As soon as we get it in, and know exactly how much we are receiving, we are going to schedule additional clinics. But, we are going to give people a little bit more notice to give people more time, and hopefully by then we will have our expanded call center in place,” she said.
Hattem said people who have had COIVID-19 in the past 10 days are not eligible for the vaccination.
“The CDC recommends you wait at least 90 days before you get it if you have had COVID,” she said.
For the future, Hattem said, the health department is trying to make sure it can reach out to everybody in the community who is eligible.
“We had some phone calls from people that are not eligible yet and they wanted to be put on a waiting list,” she said. adding there is no waiting list at this time.
“We don’t have the infrastructure to do that, because our population size is so big compared to the staff we have,” Hattem said. “But, as this vaccine continues to roll out, we will continue to improve how we are offering and providing it to the community.”
Hattem said about half of the health department staff was at the Agriculture Center Monday to help.
“There are some services that the state has allowed us to stop, but there are certain ones we are mandated to continue,” she said. “We had half of our nurses here this morning, the other half will be here this afternoon. We also have some nurses through the East Carolina College of Nursing that are here working under ECU’s umbrella to provide vaccine today and accompany our nurses.”
She said they also had been using EMS to provide vaccinations to health care workers.
Hattem said everyone at the clinic “so appreciative. It makes my heart break for those who could not get in today, but we just didn’t have enough vaccine to meet the demand. But we are getting more.”
Vidant Health announced on Monday they will began vaccinating community members 75 years and older on Friday.
“Though the first wave of community vaccines are being administered in Greenville, Vidant will announce its plans to expand its efforts to vaccinate high-risk individuals throughout the east in the coming weeks,” the news release said.
It also reminded the public that it could take months to vaccinate the entire community.
At the Ag Center, there was mostly excitement about receiving the shot.
Vernon Swaggerty, 80 and Shirley Swaggerty, 83, held hands as they left the clinic. The couple, from Knoxville, Tenn., moved to Greenville to be closer to their grandchildren.
Vernon said he was tickled to death to get the vaccine. Shirley said when she called to make their appointments, she was told they received the last two openings.
Teresa Dennis, was not as thrilled to receive it.
“I’m not excited at all, but I feel like I need it,” Dennis said.
Arlee Griffin Sr., 85, said he was not afraid to get the shot.
“I need something because I don’t know what is going around,” he said.