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Wilmington Health offers vaccines; county gets more doses but appointment slots quickly filled [Free]

New Hanover County Public Health opened more vaccination appointments on Jan. 14 and 15, and announced that Wilmington Health patients 75 years and older will now be able to make appointments through the healthcare provider for the free vaccine. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy New Hanover County)

Updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine got a booster shot Wednesday as the county announced it had received additional doses from the state. Officials also announced Wilmington Health has been approved to administer the vaccine, and the county will transfer a portion of its doses to the large medical practice.

Wilmington Health, which has more than 250 providers at 18 locations, becomes the first independent medical practice in the state to be approved to administer the vaccine, CEO Jeff James said Wednesday.

“Since about the middle of November, we’ve been trying to make sure that we are included in the state’s (vaccine strategy) and making sure that we can be part of the community solution here in New Hanover County,” James said, adding that the vaccinations currently are open to anyone over 75 and not limited to current Wilmington Health patients.

“We are receiving 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires the ultra low cold storage,” James said.

While that requirement has limited the number of places that can use the Pfizer vaccine, James said it was not an issue for Wilmington Health.

“We have enough ultra-low cold storage to maintain vaccine for every man, woman and child in New Hanover County,” James said.

The vaccine was first administered in the area on Dec. 17 when employees at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and Novant Brunswick Medical Center received doses of the Pfizer version. Since then county health departments have received doses and began offering inoculations to people over age 75.

The Moderna vaccine — the second one approved — also is being administered here and does not require ultra-cold storage. Both vaccines require two doses and trials showed that each provided about a 95% protection rate against Covid-19 a few weeks after the second dose.

Related: Pender County dealing with Covid-19 case data backlog as vaccine demand outpaces supply [Free]

Last week, the county made vaccines available to NHRMC Physician Group primary care facilities to begin administering to established patients 75 and older. 

“We know there is a high demand for the vaccine, especially among those age 75 and older who are the most vulnerable,” New Hanover Health and Human Services Director Donna Fayko said in a press release. “Transferring a portion of our first-dose vaccines and partnering with NHRMC and Wilmington Health will further Public Health’s efforts to meet the high demand.” 

Wilmington Health initially will offer the vaccine only at its main campus, 1202 Medical Center Dr. Other locations are expected to be added, a Wilmington Health spokesperson said Wednesday. Although people from outside New Hanover County can receive the vaccine at Wilmington Health, it will not distribute doses it gets from the county to its locations outside New Hanover.

A spokesperson with Wilmington Health said the office began receiving calls requesting vaccine appointments immediately after the news was announced Wednesday. WH originally had intended to begin vaccinations Thursday, but because of the demand vaccinations began Wednesday. Appointments must be made online, and those seeking a vaccine will need to fill out a form and bring it to the scheduled appointment. Questions can be directed to 910-407-5115.

With additional supplies now available, New Hanover public health opened up more appointment slots to individuals 75 and older for Jan. 14 and 15. The 955 total vaccination slots filled within a few hours after Wednesday’s announcement.

People still can call the county’s Coronavirus Call Center at 910-798-6800 for information, but no appointments are being scheduled by the New Hanover Health Department until more doses are received from the state. The center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

The county is not taking names for a waiting list, but residents can sign up for updates here and will receive an email when new appointments are available and the call center is open for scheduling.

Officials said that when appointments are available again they expect the call center to be jammed and suggested these tips for callers:

  • If you call and experience a busy signal, please call back. A busy signal indicates that all available lines are full, but the call center is still operational. So continue calling back until the line rings.
  • When the line rings, you will first hear an informational message and then you will need to stay on the line for the next available call center operator. You may have to wait on hold for a bit, depending on how many people are in the queue ahead of you, so please be patient.
  • Once all available timeslots are full, a notice will be sent publicly and the call center message will be immediately updated.
  • The county is not currently taking names for a waiting list, but residents can sign up for COVID-19 updates here and will receive an email when new appointments are available and the call center is open for scheduling.
  • Since December 22, when the county received its first COVID-19 vaccine shipment, Public Health has vaccinated 6,618 people in the community with their first dose and administered more than 98% of the county’s total first-dose vaccine shipments, prior to the new shipment being received this week.

In the next week, the county will begin administering second doses to individuals who received their first dose under Phase 1A of the vaccination plan. Those individuals do not need to call the call center for their second appointment, and will be contacted by the county with a scheduled time slot and location for the followup dose.

The state also opened its system this week to allow for other health care providers to enroll and be able to administer the vaccine. Provider approvals are expected from the state in coming weeks, which will increase the county’s ability to reach even more people through their doctor’s offices and local clinics, though supply of the vaccine remains an issue nationwide.

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