NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A week into the long-awaited process of administering Covid-19 vaccines to New Hanover County citizens, public health officials said a “communications snafu” allowed for a number of people not currently eligible for inoculations to receive the vaccine at county facilities Tuesday.
Miscommunication regarding the vaccination plan on the county website, which officials said was since updated, led to large lines this week at public health sites. Some individuals relevant to the plan’s next phases received shots Tuesday that were allocated for the first wave of recipients.
County staff unloaded approximately 4,800 shipments of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 22 and prepped for administering inaugural doses to select public health staff. Later that afternoon, as the county’s communications team took photographs and video, the effort began.
Now a week later, county staff have administered more than 1,300 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, as lines of shot-seekers form daily around the New Hanover County Public Health building. North Carolina made it clear that medical first responders — those involved in treating patients with Covid-19 — were priority one for receiving the vaccine, according to plans laid out by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Further, staff and residents in long-term care facilities are also at the top of the queue.
Public health administered nearly 700 doses Tuesday, essentially doubling their total number of prior inoculations.
“One of the challenges that we’re experiencing is that people are sharing information just anecdotally, second hand information, so it’s erroneous information,” said New Hanover County Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko. “And that’s one of the challenges that we’re seeing in trying to get our priority populations through the vaccination process.”
Medical first responders and staff and residents of long-term care facilities are in the current group receiving doses, called Phase 1A. Phase 1B, which the county hopes to formally transition into later next week, includes citizens older than 75, and workers in healthcare and other essential fields.
Messaging on the county website previously lacked clarity on the different sub-phases, Fayko said. Citizens showed up to public health sites to receive their shot, and were given vaccines ahead of schedule. Fayko said the “communications snafu” has now been resolved and public health vaccinations are being doled out only to those meeting the 1A qualifications.
“That’s why you saw such a large group come through yesterday, because really we opened the floodgates to phase 1B before we finished 1A,” Fayko said. “So we needed to backtrack a little bit.”
Meanwhile, the New Hanover Regional Medical Center received 2,925 vaccine doses a few days prior to the county’s shipments, according to a press release, and started the process of vaccinating in-house staff, and other affiliates of the hospital who met the 1A prerequisites. The same day the county received its first doses, NHRMC received an additional 975 doses.
“We know that their first doses did not cover their entire medical staff,” Fayko said. “So they’ve had to prioritize much like we have.”
A NHRMC spokesperson said the hospital has vaccinated 3,500 staff and providers to date, and added in an email, “We are still in 1a and do not advance to further phases without the state telling us it is time.”
Through a federal program, large companies like CVS and Walgreens are handling inoculations at long-term care facilities that choose to engage in the Pharmacy Partnership. Of 41 long-term care facilities in New Hanover County, 22 are working alongside the major pharmacy brands to inoculate staff and residents. The remaining 19 are served by public health. New Hanover County Public Health initially identified 12 facilities not covered by the program and in need of vaccines. But, “Further clarification from the state regarding halfway houses added an additional 7 for us to serve,” a county spokesperson said in an email.
Public health also assumes responsibility for some medical personnel, funeral service staff and others. Medac employees involved in treating Covid-19 patients have been called up to receive doses, and the county is scheduling slots for fire and rescue personnel as well.
Eventually, private medical providers will be able to acquire direct shipments of the vaccine for their own purposes, Fayko said.
“Right now because we’re working with a supply-and-demand issue, the federal government and the state has determined where those supplies go,” she said. “And so, right now, the only places receiving supplies of vaccines are hospitals, the federal pharmacy program, and public health.”
Fayko wrote in an email to county leadership that a shipment of 1,950 Pfizer doses will be arriving this week.
It’s unclear when other local clinics will receive doses and start playing a role, according to Dr. Kent Locklear, the chief medical officer at Wilmington’s Cape Fear Clinic.
Cape Fear Clinic has a patient base that would largely align with the next early phases of the vaccination plan, and recently secured approval to administer the shots. Still, Locklear said he has not heard specifics on how entities other than health departments and hospitals will join the effort.
“Unfortunately, they’ve gone a little bit radio silent on us in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “We’re not getting regular updates like we were, and I think this is consistent with what you’re seeing on the national news.”
According to a CNBC report, federal health officials have lowered the target goal for inoculations before the end of the year, which was originally set at 20 million. CDC data from Monday indicated less than 20% of distributed vaccines had been put to use, but in the same breath acknowledged those numbers could be out of date because of reporting delays.
Locklear added that lack of consistency and adherence to the grouping protocols could undermine the distribution process, and said if the plan was not followed attentively, the situation could turn into a “free-for-all.”
“It’s going to be a very hard process to manage without creating a lot of uproar,” he said.
Gov. Roy Cooper discussed a simplified version of the N.C. vaccination plan Wednesday, which boosted long term care residents from Phase 1B to Phase 1A, and upped the cutoff age for some Phase 1B prerequisites from 65 to 75, among other changes.
Fayko said on the local scene, receiving the doses from the state and administering them to citizens has been a smooth process. She said the mixup that allowed individuals outside of Phase 1A confines to receive shots has been corrected, and the county is pushing forward on inoculations for those within the first-priority groups.
“There’s lots of misinformation and miscommunication things going on,” she said. “We’re just doing our best to reach out to people trying to clarify and calm the waters.”
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