Goldsboro, N.C. — Coronavirus vaccination clinics for senior citizens across the region have been overwhelmed in recent days, leading to long lines and disappointment when people are told there’s not enough vaccine to go around.
While many counties in central North Carolina remain in Phase 1A of the national vaccination effort, focusing on health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, others have started moving into the first part of Phase 1B, which includes people age 75 or older.
Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville offered a first-come, first-served vaccination clinic on Wednesday morning, and people started lining up for the 9 a.m. event at 6:30 a.m.
“They said they couldn’t let anybody in until 8:30, so I told her I’ll take my chance, which I’m glad I did,” said Elfriede Hollingsworth, who got vaccinated. “They was very nice, very accommodating. In three weeks, I get the other [shot], and I’m just blessed and thankful.”
Hollingsworth was one of the lucky ones, as the crowd quickly outnumbered the 250 available vaccine doses. A hospital administrator notified those in line shortly after 9 a.m. that they would have to wait to get vaccinated when more vaccine becomes available.
“We’re off to a good start. We’ve got some lessons learned,” said Dr. Michael Zappa, the hospital system’s associate chief medical officer. “What we wanted to do this week is say, in addition to vaccinating our staff, we have some doses here, let’s figure out what it would take to vaccinate some of this next phase, some of the people in 1B, just in case the county needs us to step up and help them.”
One of the lessons, Zappa said, is that Cape Fear Valley might need to put a registration system in place so seniors aren’t waiting in line for long periods to be vaccinated.
“You’ve got some very independent, healthy 75-year-olds who can easily stand in lines, and then you’ve got some with some more debilitating conditions who may be harder to do that,” he said.
People lined up even earlier in Goldsboro for a Wayne County Health Department vaccination clinic, with some waiting in the cold for up to four hours just to register. Officials started registering people for the afternoon clinic at 8 a.m. at the Maxwell Center and quickly filled up all 300 slots.
“I put on two coats and stood and sat for about three hours and then got in,” Goldsboro resident William Game said. “I just got the shot, and I couldn’t even feel it.”
“You better take these shots while they are around,” Marshall Holloway said.
“Oh, my,” said Dr. Brenda Weis, Wayne County’s health director, said when she saw the lines, adding that the county didn’t have the infrastructure in place to register people for vaccinations online or over the phone.
“Some folks showed up so early, we were not expecting that, and that made their time outside a little bit longer than we had anticipated,” Weis said. “We are trying to pick venues that are very large so we can get as many people into warm space while they wait as possible.”
Seeing the lines, county officials quickly put infrastructure in place, announcing Wednesday afternoon that a hotline will open Thursday to register people for shots. The hotline, at 919-705-1800, will be operational from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.
“We are rolling out the pavement as we are sprinting over it,” Weis said.
But Wayne County has only 750 doses available – another clinic is scheduled for Thursday afternoon – which covers a tiny fraction of the 16,000 residents 75 or older.
Many people were turned away after Wednesday’s clinic slots were filled.
“I was coming to ask them where else could I go, but the doors are locked,” Richard Lorencz said.
Weis asked seniors for patience as county officials work to get more doses of the vaccine.
“It wasn’t about manpower today; it was about vaccines and how many doses we have,” she said. “We had plenty of staff on hand to handle twice as many people, but we just don’t have the vaccines to hand out, and we can’t make promises if we can’t fulfill them.”
Halifax County had so many doses available on Tuesday that the county health director opened vaccinations up to anyone who wanted one. That quickly changed, however.
Health Director Bruce Robistow said there weren’t many health care workers who needed shots on Tuesday, so his staff opened the process up to people 75 or older.
“As people showed up at our site to be vaccinated, more public began to arrive wanting vaccine. I made the decision to use vaccine allotted for the day to vaccinate those that requested it. My intention was to prevent stockpiling of vaccine and try to get the vaccine out,” Robistow said in a statement. “As the word spread, the event became larger than could be managed. We are now returning to vaccinating only 1A & 1B categories at this time and will expand to the next categories as appropriate.”
The changing criteria irritated some people who lined up early Wednesday at Halifax Community College for a shot.
“Hundreds of people had to clear out of here, so it was really a situation where you had an organized state of disorganization here the whole morning,” said one man who didn’t want to give his name. “It was really frustrating, frankly.”
The man said he and his wife were 30th in line but were then turned away. Neither is 75 or older.
“Actually, we’ve been turned away twice today,” he said. “We thought we’d come back in here and they would have some additional doses or we may be able to get in today, so this is our second trip here.”
So-called “essential” workers also were in line at the community college. They are part of Phase 1B that comes after the elderly have been vaccinated.
District Judge Vershenia Moody said court officials told her to get vaccinated, even though she’s only 50.
“We have quite a few members of court personnel staff that have tested positive,” Moddy said. “I’d like to see more guidance and a better way of implementing all of this so we’re not all standing out here in the cold. I don’t want to catch pneumonia while trying not to catch COVID.”
“I believe we could open these buildings and recruit more nurses to come and give these shots so this wouldn’t be such a bad ordeal,” agreed 69-year-old Mary Coates.
Vaccinations went more smoothly in Wilson County, which on Monday dealt with people jamming phone lines trying to call in for appointments.
“Our information technology department is working very hard to increase our ability to receive those calls, and we’re also in the process of getting an online scheduling option,” Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen said.
On Tuesday, for example, the department received 14,000 calls between 7 a.m. and noon, Ellen said.
“We’re very excited that our over 75 population is really wanting to get this vaccine. That’s a great thing,” she said.
Scheduling appointments means seniors don’t have to wait outside without even knowing if there will be enough vaccine for them, Ellen said.
“We did that very specifically, especially when you’re talking about the elderly population,” she said.
By Wednesday, the health department had administered about 500 of the 1,300 available doses, including one to former Gov. Jim Hunt and his wife.
“We want to encourage everybody to come out and get it as soon as you can,” Hunt said,
County-by-county vaccination plans
The state Department of Health and Human Services has created a phased system to get North Carolina residents vaccinated against coronavirus:
Phase 1A: Health care workers treating COVID-19 patients and staff and residents of long-term care facilities
Phase 1B: Group 1 includes people 75 or older. Group 2 includes other health care workers and “essential” workers, such as first responders, teachers, postal workers, manufacturing workers and supermarket employees, who are 50 or older. Group 3 includes other health care workers and essential workers 49 and younger.
Phase 2: Group 1 includes people ages 65 to 74. Group 2 includes people ages 16 to 64 with medical conditions, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease, that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. Group 3 includes prison inmates and others in group living settings. Group 4 includes essential workers who haven’t been vaccinated yet.
Phase 3: College students and high school students 16 and older.
Phase 4: Everyone else
While most of the Triangle is still in Phase 1A, vaccinating health workers and people who live and work in long-term care facilities, other counties across North Carolina have moved into the first part of Phase 1B and are starting to vaccinate people age 75 and older.
What you need to know
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has designated a priority order to make sure the most vulnerable people get vaccinated first.
As vaccines come from the federal government, the state is distributing vaccine to hospitals and county health departments.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina is among the states slowest to get shots into arms.
COVID-19 Vaccinations in NC
1:20 p.m.: Person County deputies have been asked to provide crowd control and assistance with traffic outside the county health department, where a vaccination clinic is being held.
1:05 p.m.: The Cumberland County Health Department has 300 doses of coronavirus vaccine available for seniors and will hold a vaccination clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Crown Expo Center.
“Vaccine is still limited at this point and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis on Friday. Individuals will NOT need an appointment,” officials said in a statement. “Vaccinations will be available in a drive-through setting within the Expo Center with entry off the West VIP parking lot. A walk-in option will be available at the front of the Expo Center. Individuals should expect long lines and come prepared to wait.”
Other vaccination clinics will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of next week.
11:10 a.m.: The Halifax County Health Department is sticking with the vaccination priority list after overwhelming demand on Tuesday when shots were given to anyone.
County Health Director Bruce Robistow said his staff started vaccinating people ages 75 or older Tuesday when there wasn’t enough demand among health care workers.
“As people showed up at our site to be vaccinated, more public began to arrive wanting vaccine. I made the decision to use vaccine allotted for the day to vaccinate those that requested it. My intention was to prevent stockpiling of vaccine and try to get the vaccine out. As the word spread, the event became larger than could be managed,” Robistow said in a statement. “We are now returning to vaccinating only 1A & 1B categories at this time and will expand to the next categories as appropriate.”
10:30 a.m.: Alamance County residents over the age of 75 can begin to line up at 12:30 p.m. at the Career and Technical Education Center located at 2550 Buckingham Road in Burlington.
The county will administer a limited and set number of vaccines beginning at 1 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
9:45 a.m.: Two lines of people waiting for vaccines were wrapped around the parking lot of Halifax Community College. One line contained people 75 and older, and the other was made up of mainly essential workers. People in line said they have been waiting at least one hour.
9:30 a.m.: Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville started turning senior citizens 75 and older away, saying the clinic ran out of coronavirus vaccines. The clinic opened at 9 a.m.
9 a.m.: Sign-ups for coronavirus vaccines open in Wayne County at the Maxwell Center in Goldsboro. Cape Fear Valley Medical Center’s vaccine clinic inside the hospital’s rehabilitation center also opens.
8:45 a.m.: WRAL Eastern North Carolina reporter Indira Eskieva could not find lines in Wilson County, which is asking people to make an appointment by phone and then come to a site in-person to register and get the vaccine in the same time slot.
8:30 a.m.: The Nash County Health Department said it will host a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic at 1 p.m. Thursday at Nash Central High School. It will be the county’s first vaccinations in Phase 1B.
7 a.m.: Alamance County administered over 400 vaccines Tuesday and began offering more to seniors 75 and older on Wednesday at the Career and Technical Education Center in Burlington.
6 a.m.: As early as 6 a.m., senior citizens were lined up outside the Maxwell Center in Goldsboro for the chance to sign up for one of 550 COVID-19 vaccines available in Wayne County this week.
Dozens of seniors 75 and older were standing in line hours before the 9 a.m. sign up event. Only a few brought chairs, likely not anticipating there would be such a long wait. The long line, temperatures in the 30s and social distancing made the wait difficult for the older population.
Public Information Officer Joel Gillie said, “We certainly knew that demand would be high but had no way of knowing that people would be waiting this early … we have a limited supply and we will be receiving more doses soon. If you don’t get an appointment today, we will have more registrations available.”
To get the first round of coronavirus vaccines, people 75 and older in Wayne County need to sign up to secure an appointment to receive the shot.
Appointments can made in-person on Wednesday at the Maxwell Center at 3114 Wayne Memorial Drive in Goldsboro and on Thursday from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. at the Peggy M. Seegars Senior Center.
Individuals who visit a registration site should bring their I.D. as well as insurance card. The vaccine will be available at no cost, regardless of insurance coverage.
Officials said, out of the more than 100,000 people who live in Wayne County, less than 600 will get the chance to be vaccinated over the next few days.
Vaccinations could begin as early as noon on Wednesday in Wayne County.
In Wake County, seniors 75 and older are still waiting for coronavirus vaccines as the focus remains on vaccinating healthcare workers and people who live or work in long-term care facilities.
In other counties outside of the Triangle, including Cumberland and Wayne, vaccinations or sign-ups are underway.
On Wednesday, a clinic at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center will begin vaccinating people 75 or older at 9 a.m. The hospital is stressing to the public that vaccine supply is limited. Officials said they’re expecting to reach capacity very quickly and will probably have to turn people away.
The Cape Fear Valley vaccine clinic ran a “soft launch” on Tuesday in the rehabilitation center at 1638 Owen Drive.
Seniors hoping to attend Wednesday’s clinic at the same location are asked to arrive no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and follow signs indicating event parking.
The vaccines will be given on a first come, first served basis, and not everyone will be vaccinated due to demand.
Also on Wednesday, COVID-19 vaccines will be administered at UNC Health Southeastern in Lumberton between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Patients have to schedule an appointment.
The vaccine rollout for seniors 75 and older has been slow across the state, and many in Wake County are wondering when they can get the shot. At 2 p.m., Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, is expected to provide an update on vaccination plans.
A new hotline about the COVID-19 vaccine will also launch on Wednesday.