A month after Covid-19 vaccinations began, second-dose shots arrive in Wilmington

As some Wilmington-area healthcare workers queued up for their second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, people 65 and older were receiving a first dose as the county received more shipments and expanded its outreach efforts. (Port City Daily/Courtesy of New Hanover County)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A month has passed since New Hanover County staff began dispensing Covid-19 vaccinations to healthcare workers. This week some received their second shot of the two-dose regime. 

New Hanover County received 4,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week to be allocated for second-dose shots, according to assistant health director David Howard. About 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine designated for second doses also arrived. 

For both versions there is no difference between the vaccine used for the first dose and the one used for the second dose, but they must be spaced apart — about three weeks for Pfizer and one month for Moderna.

According to the manufacturers, the first dose helps the body create an immune response against the virus that causes COVID-19, and the second dose boosts that response and makes it last. Shortly after the two-dose regimen is completed, full protection kicks in. Both vaccines have been shown to be 95% effective in preventing the disease.

After receiving the first dose, vaccine recipients are contacted for their follow-up inoculation. Meanwhile, the county is ramping up first-dose vaccinations for the 65-and-older population. 

Howard said the county received 3,900 vials of Pfizer vaccine this week for first-dose shots. Half went to New Hanover Regional Medical Center to support a community vaccination effort at The Pointe movie theater complex. The other half went to Wilmington Health, which joined the effort after the state authorized additional clinics to administer the vaccine. 

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“The plan has always been to expand that pool of providers across all the counties and all communities,” Howard said. “Over the weeks and months ahead, the supply of vaccine will be enough where they can start sending it to more and more vaccine providers.”

Cape Fear Clinic, which serves uninsured people across Southeastern N.C., received about 40 doses of Moderna vaccine from the county’s allotment. 

As of now, “Vaccine shipments are sent directly to hospitals and local health departments by the manufacturers or distributors,” according to a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. “The state gets less than a week’s notice of the exact amount for each upcoming allocation, and NCDHHS then tells the federal government where to ship vaccine based on population size, hospital capacity and providers’ on-hand inventory.” 

The NCDHHS was told to expect 120,000 doses per week through the end of January, the spokesperson said. 

New Hanover County then forwards a portion to its community partners, such as Wilmington Health and NHRMC. Partner clinics will eventually receive the vaccine directly, rather than through the county, Howard said. 

“The shipments are now running in, you might say, two channels, where you’re receiving second-dose shipments, vaccine supply to deliver the second doses, as well as weekly allotments, which varies, for first-dose shipments,” Howard said. “And we’re simply load-balancing in terms of our capacity to deliver all of the second doses as well as deliver as much of the first dose as possible.” 

New Hanover County is vaccinating people 65 and older weekly at the Senior Resource Center on Shipyard Boulevard and the Health and Human Services building on 17th Street. Outreach events to reach marginalized communities also have begun. (Port City Daily/Courtesy New Hanover County)

Due to the hefty size of its packaging — 975 doses per shipment — and the ultra-cold storage requirement, larger facilities usually are a better fit for the Pfizer vaccine. Both NHRMC and Wilmington Health have the necessary ultra-cold storage facilities.

The Moderna vaccine comes in 100-dose portions and can be kept in standard deep freezers for up to six months, making it a better option for some clinics and smaller counties. 

After receiving a 2,600-dose shipment of the Moderna vaccine this week, slated for first-dose shots, the county announced Tuesday that 1,410 appointments were available. All slots were filled in less than two-and-a-half hours.

The remaining Moderna supply from this week’s shipment to the county— around 1,200 vials — will be used in a series of outreach events for people 65 and older in minority communities. 

“Specific efforts have included vaccinating around 56 residents at Solomon Towers and today we will serve around 120 people from the African American community who are 65 and older at the Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church,” according to an internal email from New Hanover County chief diversity and equity officer, Linda Thompson, and intergovernmental affairs coordinator, Tim Buckland. “This coming Friday, we are hoping to serve around 300 adults from our African American and LatinX communities who are 65 and older at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church,” the email said.

A New Hanover County spokesperson said several hundred doses of Moderna vaccine were transferred to MedNorth and Cape Fear Clinic, “for them to begin administering to their patients who are eligible.”

According to a press release from Gov. Roy Cooper, 625,000 Covid-19 vaccines had been administered statewide by Friday. 

“Our goal is to make sure we distribute all of the vaccine that has been allotted to us by the federal government and to look at them and say ‘We want a lot more,'” Cooper said, according to WTVD.

Howard said New Hanover County has a similar mindset, in that through efficiency it can demonstrate to the state its readiness to receive more doses. 

“We’ve been pretty successful in delivering a lot of vaccine ourselves, in terms of the administrations, as well as forging these partnerships to put it in the hands of these partner providers that can put it into arms,” he said. “So that’s proven to the state that we can receive first dose shipments, as well as receive our second dose shipments when they’re due to the recipients of the vaccine.”

Send tips, comments and criticisms to Preston at preston@localdailymedia.com

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