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Vaccine wait list grows in Northampton

JACKSON – The Northampton County Health Department has given out 1,001 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as of the end of January.

Northampton Board of Health Chair Bill Futrell, along with Vice Chair Ben Moses, presented that information and other updates to the Northampton County Commissioners at their regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 1.

According to information from the Board of Health, the breakdown of the first 1,001 doses is 393 people identified as African American, 602 identified as Caucasian, five identified as American Indian, and one identified as mixed race. In addition to the first vaccine doses already distributed, the health department has also given 119 second doses so far.

Futrell noted that he only has data for shots administered by the health department, so the information does not include statistics about long-term care facilities which had vaccines distributed by contract with the federal government or residents who may have received their first shots in a different county or by a different provider.

Since distribution began in late December, the Northampton Health Department has received an allocation of 100 or 200 doses each week from the state. The allotment for the week of Feb. 1 will be 400 doses.

“I appreciate you giving us the facts,” said Commissioner Board Chair Charles Tyner. “There needs to be some clarity.”

Tyner expressed some disappointment with the demographics of vaccine recipients so far, and noted also that the commissioners have had many questions from citizens about how to get the vaccine.

Futrell explained that the health department does vaccinations by appointment. Those wishing to get the vaccine should call 252-534-5841 and leave their name, age, and a phone number to call back.

“We don’t ask any more than that. And basically, we don’t need any more than that,” Futrell said. “The bottom line is we don’t know your ethnicity when we call you back.”

“They’re telling me they’re getting 400 calls a day,” he continued, noting that the health department staff is working on vaccinations in addition to their regular duties.

People who call are added to a waiting list for their turn. With the low vaccine supply, however, there is some wait time between calling for an appointment and getting the shot. Futrell reported that they’re currently scheduling appointments for citizens who called around January 9, and as of February 1 there are approximately 2,526 residents on the waiting list.

Futrell stressed that the numbers on the waiting list will continue to fluctuate, especially as some may decide to go outside of the county to get vaccinated.

He explained that the health department is following the vaccination group guidelines provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). They began with healthcare providers and first responders before moving on the citizens aged 75 and older. When the guidelines were changed to include people aged 65 and older, Futrell said the estimated number of residents currently qualified to receive the vaccine went from approximately 1,500 people to 5,000.

Tyner asked if the health department had enough personnel to handle everything right now. Futrell answered yes, but said they may need more if the allocation amounts increased substantially. But as of right now, they have the capacity to distribute the vaccine each week.

Commissioner Joyce Buffaloe asked several questions about the vaccine distribution progress so far. Included in those questions were concerns about long-term care facilities and a rumor about vaccinating people from Wilson County.

“That is completely incorrect,” Futrell said in regards to the rumor.

Because the vaccinations are a federal program, the county is not allowed to refuse any citizen regardless of their residence, but he said they had not vaccinated any residents of Wilson County.

As for the long-term care facilities, Futrell explained that the federal government was working in partnership with large chain pharmacies to vaccinate those residents. But not all long-term care facilities meet the criteria for vaccinations.

“Some of these smaller facilities do not qualify, and they requested our assistance,” he said. “In both cases, we responded quickly.”

The Northampton Health Department vaccinated 14 residents and staff in one facility and 22 in the other.

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner had questions about the availability for COVID-19 testing.

Futrell said he didn’t know the exact details but he believed the health department provided testing on Tuesdays. Commissioner Nicole Boone, who also serves on the Board of Health, said Rural Health Group is also still providing testing.

Rural Health Group is also receiving an allocation of vaccines this week, but Futrell said he wouldn’t know the details of their distribution policy.

Speaking at the end of the discussion, Boone said they were still working to advocate for more vaccine allocations for Northampton County.

“There is a wait across the country for vaccines,” she acknowledged.

She also emphasized the importance of continuing precautions to slow and stop the spread of the virus, saying, “Wear your mask, sanitize, socially distance yourself, and stay apart from those that are not in your household.”

“We take this very seriously,” Tyner said, closing the discussion. “We’ve got to have open communication. We’re all on the same team, and this is something we’ve never had before.”

According to Northampton County’s COVID-19 statistics as of Feb. 2, there have been 1,566 total positive cases since the pandemic first began. 1,460 have recovered while 65 have died. There are currently 41 active cases in the county.