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COVID vaccine allocation rises

JACKSON – While people have been working to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic, there have also been efforts to stop the spread of misinformation.

The Northampton County Board of Commissioners held a special called meeting here on Monday, Feb. 8 specifically to share the most up-to-date and accurate information about vaccine distribution in the county. Board of Health Chair Bill Futrell and Vice Chair Ben Moses were also in attendance.

“There’s a lot of misinformation going around,” said Commissioner Board Chair Charles Tyner in his opening remarks. “We want to make sure the citizens understand we’re doing all we possibly can. This evening is for information. Knowledge is powerful.”

The biggest news from the meeting was that Northampton County has begun receiving extra vaccine allocation from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) in order to reach historically marginalized populations (HMP). Those allocations are in addition to the regular amount of vaccine allocations the county is continuing to receive.

Futrell reported that the health department received their regular 200 dose allocation this week as well as the extra 100 doses designated for HMP.

The “set aside” allocations are sent to counties with high population numbers of people 65 and older with low income, counties with high population numbers of HMP aged 65 and older, and counties that received less doses per population in the previous weeks. The state identified census tracts with a high number of residents who fit those criteria and assigned the allocation based on the county that tract was located in.

“On Feb. 3, we received an email from the state [NCDHHS] informing us that we’re receiving set aside allocations targeting the historically marginalized population of 65 and up citizens who are African American,” explained Commissioner Nicole Boone, who also serves as a member of Northampton’s Board of Health. “The state has recognized that there is a disproportionate number between races receiving the vaccine.”

According to that email, the breakdown of Northampton County’s vaccine distribution by race so far was 33 percent Black, 64 percent white, one percent Native American, and one percent Latino.

By comparison, the United States Census Bureau estimates that Northampton County’s population demographics in 2019 were 57.2 percent Black, 40.4 percent white, and 2.6 percent Hispanic or Latino.

“Our job is to ensure the citizens of Northampton County have equitable access to the vaccine,” Boone continued. “That means we go outside the four walls of our county health department. That means we go out in the community where citizens are.”

A mobile vaccine clinic is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 11 to distribute the 100 doses the health department received this week for HMP. That clinic will take place from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Northampton High School, 152 Hurricane Drive, Gaston. Those ages 65 and older can call 252-534-1668 or 252-534-1303 ext. 4 to schedule an appointment for the clinic.

The rest of the health department’s weekly allocation (200 doses) will continue to be distributed by appointment to the next people on the waiting list as they have been doing since allocations began in late December. Citizens wishing to get their name on the wait list can call the health department at 252-534-5841. Please leave your name, age, and phone number.

Boone said they are planning to hold at least two more clinics—one in Jackson and the other in Conway—in the coming weeks, but nothing is set in stone yet. It all depends on continuing allocations from NCDHHS.

“We have to wait and see what the state does on a week-to-week basis,” she explained.

In addition to the weekly allocations that NCDHHS sent to the Northampton County Health Department, the Rural Health Group in Jackson and Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) in Woodland have also received vaccine allocations for historically marginalized populations.

RCCHC’s Woodland Primary Care, located at 108 W. Main Street, will hold a vaccine clinic from 2-6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 11. The event is on a first come, first serve basis, and is only open to health care workers or individuals who are 65 and older. Registration is required. To register, call RCCHC’s COVID-19 Info Line at 252-862-4933.

Rural Health Group’s vaccination clinic will be held beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 19 at the Northampton County Cultural & Wellness Center, 9536 NC Hwy 305, Jackson. The event is open for health care workers or individuals who are 65 and older. Participants must register for an appointment prior to arrival.

To register, visit https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10c0c4faeae28a2ffc16-1stmoderna

All of these clinics are for people wishing to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Futrell emphasized that NCDHHS determines how many doses the county receives each week, and they also set the guidelines on distribution. If the health department does not comply with the state requirements, they’re at risk for receiving a smaller allocation in future weeks.

“There’s not anybody in this room that can do anything about the system which NCDHHS has established to distribute the vaccine,” he noted during Monday night’s meeting. “We don’t have any choice but to abide by the regulations.”

Futrell explained that the vaccine helps stop the spread of the virus as well as to help curb the number of virus mutations that may pop up.

“The more doses we get in this county, the better off we all are,” Futrell concluded.

“I really hope we have cleared up any misinformation or misunderstanding about this,” Boone stated. “All we want to do is ensure that all citizens have access to the COVID-19 vaccine in our county.”

The commissioners shared their own comments about the vaccine situation during the last part of Monday’s meeting. Commissioners Joyce Buffaloe and Kelvin Edwards both expressed their gratitude to the health department staff.

Tyner said he wanted to make it clear that the commissioners supported the hard work that Director Andy Smith, Doctor Frank Taylor, the Board of Health, and the rest of the health department staff have been doing.

“The citizens of this county are blessed to have all of you a part of our health department,” he said. “You have served our citizens and you have done it well. No one can complain about what you’re doing in the health department.”

Commissioner Geneva Faulkner emphasized the importance of sharing accurate information about vaccinations. She encouraged people to contact the health department or the county manager’s office if they have more questions. She also advised people to visit the library if they don’t have internet access or the technical skills to access online information or registrations.

Boone wrapped up the meeting by reminding people to not let their guard down yet, whether or not they’ve received the vaccine already.

“Continue to wear your mask. Continue to social distance. Continue to wash your hands in hot water. Use sanitizer,” she said. “We have to be vigilant when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the Northampton County website (www.northamptonnc.com), the Northampton Health Department website (www.northamptonhd.com), or the NCDHHS website (www.covid19.ncdhhs.gov).

As of Feb. 8, the Northampton Health Department has provided 1,447 first doses of the vaccine and 319 second doses. Those numbers do not include vaccines given by other providers or doses that citizens received by traveling to neighboring counties.

There are currently 31 active COVID-19 cases in the county. Since the pandemic began, there have been 1,505 recoveries and 65 deaths in Northampton County. The death toll is the highest in the four-county Roanoke-Chowan area.