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Virginians head south for vaccine

WINDSOR – It appears that some individuals will go to extreme measures to receive the COVID-19 vaccine…so much to the point that they will travel out-of-state to roll up their sleeves.

Albemarle Regional Health Services (ARHS) officials and support staff have documented several instances where residents of Virginia have traveled to an ARHS mass vaccination site in an effort to receive the COVID-19 shot.

ARHS Director R. Battle Betts Jr. said he cannot legally refuse to service those individuals, but he will make sure that North Carolinians in the line at these vaccine clinics receive top priority.

Speaking by Zoom at Monday night’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners – where he and ARHS co-worker Ashley Stoop gave the board a local update on COVID-19 cases and the ongoing vaccination effort – Betts said the vaccine clinics are showing a noted increase of residents from Virginia, specifically in Camden, Currituck and Gates, and even some in Bertie and Pasquotank.

“We said today [Monday] that enough is enough,” Betts said. “It is a federal vaccine, purchased by the federal government, but if I know that next week that we’re only going to have 100 doses per county, we have to commit to protecting our own residents without taking on the burden of vaccinating those from Virginia at the same time.

“We will put northeastern North Carolina residents first,” Betts continued. “By law, we can’t say no to those from another state, but what we can do is direct them to wait in another line until all those from North Carolina are served.”

With Monday’s effort at a first-dose vaccine clinic held at Bertie High School, ARHS has administered over 4,000 shots in Bertie County over the past few weeks. However, as Betts earlier stated, the vaccine allocation is being shifted away from northeastern North Carolina to other parts of the state. That shift will result in ARHS receiving only 1,300 doses to administer across all of its eight-county service area. Second dose clinics are not impacted by the shift as that is a separate allocation.

Those lower number of first doses per county are not the fault of ARHS.

“The state is reanalyzing the number of doses allocated in different parts of the state,” Betts stated. “We’ve proven we can get the shots in the arms of the residents in our district. The challenge is getting our hands on the doses we need. Unfortunately, that amount is going to slow to a trickle over the next few weeks.”

Bertie Commissioner Ron Wesson asked Betts about the effort to ensure the message about pending vaccine clinics is reaching minority communities and senior citizens. Betts said he and his team are looking into ways to better target minorities and seniors. He said they are working closely with the faith-based community and Meals on Wheels in that effort.

In her COVID-19 update to the commissioners, Stoops said, as a whole, ARHS had broken the 10,000 barrier for positive tests since last March across their district. As of last Friday (Jan. 29), Bertie County has recorded 1,535 positive tests, but only 40 are currently active. There have been 1,457 Bertie citizens who have recovered from the virus. Unfortunately, 38 county residents have died due to complications with COVID-19.

“We’re beginning to see a downward trend in the number of active cases,” she noted. “COVID behaves similar to seasonal respiratory viruses. That’s why it’s so crucial to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves. We’re not out of the woods just yet.”

Stoops praised the team of ARHS-Bertie workers and community partners – Emergency Management, EMS, and local law enforcement – stationed at the drive-thru clinics.

“Bertie County is definitely a model of efficiency and we greatly appreciate your support,” Stoops stressed. “They can roll. They did 455 vaccines from 9 to 12 on Monday. That’s remarkable.”

Second dose clinics are upcoming. Depending on what type of vaccine was administered as the first dose, the required follow-up shot is scheduled in a 21-day to 28-day window. Stoops said there is some flexibility within that second dose window: it can be administered four days early or after.

She added that Johnson & Johnson’s new vaccine may become available soon, adding that it will be a “game-changer for us because it only requires one dose.”

ARHS and its county partners will hold drive through Moderna second dose clinics this week. These clinics are only opened to individuals who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on or before Thursday, January 7. The date on your card noting when your second dose is due is the suggested date you should receive your second dose.

Please plan to attend the second dose clinic in the county where you received your first dose. You will need to bring the vaccine card you received with your first dose with you to this clinic. If you do not have your card, you may experience additional delays, or may be turned away and rescheduled because we have to verify your first dose for your safety.

Locally, second dose clinics will be held as follows:

Bertie County: Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 9-11:30 a.m. and again from 1-4 p.m. at Bertie High School, located at 715 US HWY 13 North, Windsor;

Gates County: Thursday, Feb. 4 from 9-11:30 a.m. and again from 1-4 p.m. at the Gates County Health Department, located at 29 Medical Center Road, Gates; and

Hertford County: Thursday, Feb. 4 from 9-11:30 a.m. and again from 1-4 p.m. at the Ahoskie Creek Amphitheater, located at 125 Edgewood Drive, Ahoskie.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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