Wake County hoping to learn from issues elsewhere when it begins vaccinations for seniors, health care workers


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Those 65 years and older, along with health care workers, will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine in Wake County starting next week.

“It’s exciting. It means we’re moving through the phases,” said Dr. Jason Whittes, Wake County Human Services pharmacy director.

Starting Tuesday, people in that age group and health care workers can join the county’s waiting list. They estimate 188,000 people fall into the category.

“The sheer number of people is a challenge when you look at it just from a numbers game.”

Their goal is to avoid long waits.

“What we didn’t want to happen was what happened in some of these other counties: Long lines, people being turned away, people potentially getting more ill because they’re standing outside in the cold,” Whittes said.

Instead, the county has a new system to schedule an appointment online. For those without a computer, a hotline will be open at 919-250-1515.

Appointments are then determined by risk and need, rather than first come, first served.

“What we don’t want is for people to overload our call center. You do not need to be the first person to call to guarantee your first dose,” Whittes said.

He said they’re confident in the algorithm behind their system and partnerships with other agencies to get everyone vaccinated.

“We’ll get through this together — just a little bit of time and patience is what it will take all around.”

They plan to administer 2,300 vaccines next week and expect the following week to be busy, as well.

“It’s all hands-on deck and we’re all in this together to get everybody vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

Whittes said they’re moving through vaccine phases slower than other counties because Wake has more people in the first phase than others.

“We have a proven track record of getting doses into arms as quickly as possible.”

An issue they’re coming across is they only find out a few days ahead of time how many doses they’ll get each week.

He said their algorithm takes that into account when scheduling appointments.

They’re asking for more doses from the state and are hopeful federal changes will allow it, as well. However, if they can’t get more allocated, it could take several months to get through this group.

“It’s really an all-hands-on-deck perspective, however, it’s going to be a while if our current allocation remains the same throughout the county.”

Once people sign up, they’ll be invited to schedule an appointment and be sent a reminder. Once they do that, they’re guaranteed a vaccine at that time.

People will be allowed to reschedule appointments if needed. Their dose will instead go to someone on a prioritization list they’ve created.

“We have those mechanisms in place to make sure that dose doesn’t get wasted because that’s the biggest sin you can commit is having a wasted dose.”

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