How the vaccine rollout is going, according to NHC residents and public health officials
It's been close to three months since North Carolina rolled out its vaccination program, now being extended to the third of five groups. So how do those who have already received the shot feel about it?
Danielle Smallwood is a third-grade teacher at Murrayville Elementary. She got her first dose as part of New Hanover County’s efforts to vaccinate teachers last week:
“I know there are a lot of people who are in the 65 and older category, and they still have not gotten their vaccine. And I feel awful, but at the same time, I just feel very fortunate to have gotten it because with working so closely with kids all day long, I just feel much better about being here with them.”
Danielle will be fully vaccinated by the end of March, but she’s returning to the classroom full-time on Monday.
Steven Brennan, like Danielle, is a frontline essential worker. He’s a firefighter for the City of Wilmington. And he’s already gotten his shots due to the county’s effort to have them serve as vaccinators. But he understands how some of his co-workers and the public are hesitant about getting the vaccine:
“I found the best thing I can do is just talk to them about it, and share my experience about it, and how much I feel a little more at ease, knowing that I am vaccinated.”
And while Danielle and Steven had a relatively easy time signing up for the vaccine -- some struggled to get a spot.
Goldie Walton is a substitute teacher for New Hanover County Schools. She received the vaccine as a member of Group 2, those who are 65 and older. She first called in early January to get an appointment and couldn’t get through, and the second time, she immediately got a recording saying all the vaccines had been taken:
“And so it kind of annoyed me because I started calling within like 30 seconds. And so it said to stay on the line if you have a question. So I was angry. I stayed on the line to tell them, ‘What’s the problem? How come the shots are gone already?’ And when someone answered he said, ‘Oh, that was a mistake. We do have appointments available.’ So I was glad I stayed on the line. I was able to make appointments for myself and my husband and my three sisters, and my neighbor who has cancer.”
Donna Fakyo is the director of New Hanover County’s Health and Human Services. She says the appointment system has progressed from the time Goldie first called:
“We provide two avenues for people they can either make a phone call if they’re not tech-savvy, but we also have our online registration system that has improved tremendously. So when we have appointments available, they fill up very quickly, and I think it’s a very efficient process.”
But she says there’s one area of outreach where there’s still some work to do:
“I really want to reach our LatinX community because they are so fearful if law enforcement’s involved or Homeland Security or anything. We don’t ask for social security numbers. We’re not asking for identification. We just want to make sure people are getting vaccinated if they want a vaccine.”
Another challenge she’s dealing with is the idea that people can get Covid-19 from the vaccine or that it will make them seriously ill. She says all credible organizations say the virus isn’t in the vaccine:
“But again, the research, the CDC, the FDA, they have all spelled that out very clearly. They may have some adverse reactions, but the side effects that people are getting are very minimal, which I’m very pleased with.”
Danielle, Goldie, and Steven had little to no side effects from the vaccine. And while they’re all feeling more protected out in the world, they’re still planning on wearing their masks and social distancing.
The new Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help increase supply. But it still won’t meet the demand that exists. So what's the shot’s efficacy rate -- and how has New Hanover County verified who’s eligible as more sign up to be vaccinated?
Donna Fayko is the health and human services director for New Hanover County. She says that any vaccine is a good one, including the Johnson & Johnson version that arrived in the state this week:
“It basically is 72% in preventing moderate to severe illness after 28 days, but it’s 86% effective in preventing severe to critical illness after 28 days. So really J & J is going to keep people out of the hospital and prevent death.”
Fayko says that when people call to make an appointment, they won’t know which one they’re getting, but they will know when they arrive.
As for community concern over line jumping for the vaccine, Fayko says the state told her to take people at their word:
“But for people 65 plus, you have to register your birthday. So we know pretty quickly whether or not they fall within that category. Regarding frontline essential workers, we just have to take people at face value.”
Fayko says she doesn’t know when they can fully open appointments to all frontline essential workers or when the county can move to Group 4, anyone with a high-risk medical condition or living in a group setting, and essential workers not yet vaccinated.
Below are New Hanover County’s vaccination appointment resources. Check to see if you’re eligible for an appointment here.
NHC Public Health: Vaccinations can be scheduled through an online scheduling system and by calling 910-798-6800 when appointments are available. *Note, the online system can only be accessed when appointments are open.
NHRMC: Vaccinations can be scheduled at nhrmc.org/coronavirus or by calling (910) 662-2020 when appointments are available.
Wilmington Health: Vaccinations can be scheduled at WilmingtonHealth.com/COVIDvaccine or by calling (910) 407-5115 when appointments are available.
Walgreens: Vaccinations can be scheduled online here for participating local Walgreen locations when appointments are available.