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'A massive undertaking': With all adults now eligible for vaccines, NHRMC eyes serious challenges


Starting Wednesday, all North Carolinians are now eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. WHQR spoke with Dr. West Paul, chief clinical officer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center about the challenges ahead.


NHRMC Chief Clinical Officer Dr. West Paul (left) and WHQR's Ben Schachtman (right).

BS: Dr. West Paul, thanks for joining us. Let’s start with logistics -- Governor Cooper opened up the state to all vaccination groups this week, can the hospital ramp up?

PW: That's a good question. And I will tell you, our vaccine teams here were able to do really 1,000s in a day -- move that to a novel concept, which was The Pointe movie theaters [at Barclay], which strangely enough, really, the layout of that offered itself to a mass vaccination...

We've got the capability to certainly do it right now, our limitation has just been the number of vaccines, certainly turning the faucet on with everyone is going to be a massive undertaking. We do have an increased allotment for this week coming, that we that the state has mandated the opening to everyone. So we've got over 6,000 vaccines we can give in the week, so it can be done. We're more concerned that demand will drop.

BS: So New Hanover has seen pretty consistently high demand, but what might cause it to drop?

PW:  I think there's a lot of hesitancy one, we're actually the you know, the pandemic is improving, or hadn't been improving until three weeks ago, when we started seeing the increased surge, again -- rumors and anecdotes about what these vaccines are and are not. 

And there's all ways that lingering question of safety, which I hope we can maybe debate a little bit here, this is probably the most well studied prescription medication in the history of the United States.

BS: For people who don't understand how the vaccines were able to be developed so quickly, so can you give a little sense of the research that allowed these vaccines to be turned around so quickly.

PW: Now I'm intrigued -- I have a background in pharmacology, molecular biology. So I've been following this technology, this is not new technology. And that's the first thing that I think people should understand. They think this is new and new technology. It's not. These ways of generating these vaccines, the technology has been around probably for a decade or two. With this, it's almost as if we use the viruses, the COVID’s virus DNA against it, we sequence it, we look at what it looks like, we mimic it, we make our body produce a little bit of it, and then the immune response takes off and can kill it. It's rather remarkable and rather simple.

BS: So, moving to a different kind of hesitancy, not about this vaccine per se, but skepticism or mistrust of the medical establishment by the Black and Hispanic communities -- are you still seeing that?

 PW: You know, we are and I think that is that is long-rooted in our culture, and it's very unfortunate, and it's going to take some time and huge effort on the part of the healthcare system to really make sure we earn the trust back. I mean, that we that is our job to do. And I think this pandemic, if there's a silver lining is our opportunity to do that. 

BS: And, of course, some people are just wary of the side effects. What can they expect?

They're not bad and they're incredibly self limited. So you're looking at 24 hours at the maximum instead of days and days and days with the actual virus, which I will tell you if you talk to any of our patients in the hospital, they will trade 24 hours of minor side effects for this virus in a heartbeat.

BS: Yeah, I can imagine. So, some people get the vaccine to protect themselves or their immediate circle. But there’s a broader reason too --- can you say something about what it means for the community as a whole to get the vaccine.

The sooner we can stop this pandemic, and we can have people immunized, so this virus does not reproduce means that those variants that we hear about all over the place, will cease to exist. If we want to get back to normal. We have to do this whether it's self-preservation or not, to get the economy back, to get life back to normal -- this is what we need to.

BS: Well, Dr. Paul West, thank you so much, I appreciate it.