WENTWORTH — Hundreds of cars were lined up several hours before the Rockingham County Health Department uncapped the first vaccine needle for Phase B Group 1 category Tuesday morning.
According to state and federal guidelines, the health department rolled out vaccines for those 75 and older in the first of four January free drive-through clinics outside their offices here in the county's Governmental Center. At least 400 doses of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine were due to be distributed on Tuesday, according to county health officials.
The vaccine couldn't become available at a more critical time for the county as infection rates on Monday and Tuesday hit all-time highs of nearly 15%.
Over the weekend 283 new patients were added to the COVID-19 sick list for the county, and a 63rd individual died from complications of the novel coronavirus.
Local doctors voiced alarm as hospitals in the state and region came closer and closer to reaching their capacity. Since last month, hospitalizations in Rockingham have ballooned from an average of around 55 to 83 on Monday.
UNC Physicians Network offers Phase 1B Group 1 vaccines
Meanwhile, UNC Rockingham Health Care in Eden, affiliated with the UNC Physicians Network, announced this week it is also offering COVID-19 vaccines to the Phase 1B Group 1, which includes those 75 and up.
Individuals interested in making an appointment and learning more about the vaccine through the network may register online at YourShot.org or call (984) 215-5485. Information is also available in Spanish.
Appointments are made for the current week and fill up quickly, so citizens are urged to check back frequently to see if new dates are open, according to Myla Barnhardt, manager of public relations and marketing for UNC Rockingham.
In using the online registration option at YourShot.org, look carefully at clinic locations to select the one closes to your location, most likely the Eden option. Walk-in appointments are not available in Eden.
UNC Rockingham has administered just over 200 vaccines to its front line workers, Barnhardt said in an email.
And on Jan. 20, UNC Rockingham will adminster vaccinations to a "larger pool of employees in Phase 1B, Group 2, which includes healthcare workers age 50 and older," Barnhardt said.
So far, vaccine recipients have only reported a few side effects at UNC Rockingham. Some staff have felt mild soreness at the site of the injection, while other report minor body aches and chills, Barnhardt said in a release.
Dr. Candace Bradley, chief medical officer at UNC Rockingham said acetominophen or ibuprophen have been adequate for controlling any discomfort caused by the vaccine, Barnhardt said
For perspective on the county's current infection rate, consider that on Jan. 2 case numbered 4,612. Eight days later on Jan. 10, the number had swollen to 5,245, a leap of 13.7%, or an average of about 77 cases a day.
On Tuesday, 3,456 Rockingham COVID-19 patients were at home recovering and under quarantine. Another 1,638 patients had recovered from the highly infectious virus, according to county health records.
Until the community reaches herd immunity — when 75-80% of citizens are vaccinated or have antibodies to COVID-19, it is critical that citizens follow public health guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks, said Trey Wright, county public health director, who helped direct traffic flow at Tuesday's first drive-through clinic.
He urges everyone to take the vaccine to help themselves and their community and emphasized that even those who survive the virus may be plagued with longterm chronic health problems as a result.
County vaccinations will continue for those 75 and older
The health department will follow guidelines published by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. The department will continue offering free innoculations to individuals 75 and older through Jan. 21.
Planned dates and locations of free vaccination clinics
Vaccines will be administered at the Rockingham County Governmental Center's Health and Human Services Entrance at 411 N.C. Highway 65 in Wentworth on the following dates:
Jan. 12: 10 a.m to 2 p.m.
Jan. 14: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Jan. 19: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Jan. 21: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
• All citizens receiving a vaccine must complete a COVID-19 consent form. To lessen your wait time, find the form online at: www.rockinghamcountypublichealth.org. Print and complete ahead of time. Or you may pick up a paper copy at the Governmental Center Check-In Booth at 371 N.C. Highway 65 in Wentworth or at any public library branch.
• After your vaccination, you will be required to wait for 15 minutes for observation by health officials. Designated parking spaces will be provided.
The January dates are only the beginning of the vaccination schedule, the health department said in a Thursday news release. The agency will supply future schedules and locations through the Rockingham County Division of Public Health’s COVID-19 Hotline at 336-342-840, media outlets, and through the county’s websites: www.co.rockingham.nc.us and www.rockinghamcountypublichealth.org. Citizens may also contact the Department of Health and Human Services at 336-342-8140 for more information.
How will you know when it's your turn to be vaccinated?
Where will vaccines be administered?
Health officials strongly advise residents to get flu shots promptly to prevent co-infection of flu and COVID-19.
Public health experts urge citizens to download a public health phone app: SlowCOVIDNC. The app can alert you if you have been exposed to an individual who has tested positive.
Find more information at www.rockinghamcountydhhs.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect web address for registration for the UNC Physicians Network vaccine.
Contact Susie C. Spear at firstname.lastname@example.org, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.