UPDATED: N.C. close to exhausting vaccine first doses, leaving upcoming Outer Banks clinics in limbo

A COVID-19 vaccination clinic was held at the Fessenden Center in Buxton on Jan. 16, 2021. [photo courtesy Dare County DHHS]

State officials warned Monday afternoon that North Carolina is close to running out of its supply of first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which has lead to some appointments having to be cancelled for upcoming clinics in Dare County.

“There are no words adequate to describe the frustration and dismay felt by myself and our team over having to cancel vaccination appointments for Friday’s clinic due to no fault of our own,” said Dr. Sheila Davies, Director of the Dare County Department of Health & Human Services.

“The people in Dare County and rural North Carolina deserve equitable vaccine allocation from the state,” Davies said. “We have been modelling the way for how to safely and efficiently administer large numbers of vaccines and have repeatedly communicated to the state that we could vaccinate 2,000 to 4,000 people per week if those vaccines would be allocated to us.”

Dare County’s allotment was cut in half, and as a result, approximately 300 appointments scheduled for this Friday may have to be rescheduled, according to a press release from the Dare County health department.

“Due to the generous transfer of vaccines from the Outer Banks Hospital and an anticipated transfer from Onslow Memorial Hospital we will not have to reschedule all 1100 appointments originally scheduled for Friday, January 29th,” the department said.

Davies said Monday morning she had sent multiple emails to state health leaders since last week, pleading for more information and for the state not to back out of the promised allocation to Dare and other rural counties that are now destined for North Carolina’s most populous city.

“If someone could pull 700 doses from the 30,000 event I will personally make the 11 hour round trip from Dare to Charlotte to pick up the doses if it means not having to cancel our clinic,” Davies wrote to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services staff members.

More from the Dare DHHS statement:

As of this update, only appointments scheduled for January 29, 2021 are being impacted. If you or a loved one have an appointment scheduled for this clinic and if your appointment is being impacted by the vaccine shortage, you will receive a phone call to reschedule. Please be patient and wait for a staff person to call you. Everyone will be contacted with an appointment, when the vaccine is available to accommodate you.

Dare County Department of Health & Human Services has made numerous efforts to work with NC Public Health to get the additional vaccines needed to meet appointments scheduled this week and will continue to advocate for increased vaccine supply for its residents.

You may direct any concerns or questions regarding vaccine allocation for Dare County to your state representatives or North Carolina Public Health’s customer service center at 1-800-662-7030.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 88 percent of all first doses have been reported as being administered as of Sunday evening.

Beginning on Wednesday, North Carolina will have only 120,000 doses to allocate across the entire state, according to a NCDHSS statement.

The department said a significant portion of those doses are committed to the large-scale events planned several weeks ago to address the backlog in vaccine.

The News and Observer reported Saturday a that includes events at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

As a result, many providers are getting small or no allocations for the coming week and health departments and hospitals in North Carolina have been forced to cancel upcoming appointments and clinics.

Echoing much of the frustration shared by her colleagues around the state, Davies sent a tersely worded email to Raleigh, including N.C. Health Director Betsy Tilson:

Have you been receiving the emails from this weekend regarding how frustrated, angry, hurt and disrespected health directors across the state are feeling?

I was thinking Thursday night, when we were notified we were only receiving 600 doses this coming week, that Dare County was in the minority but after receiving at least 20 emails from health directors that have had their allotments were cut like ours, I realized that I am not alone. This does not provide me with any comfort.

The Governor, Dr. Cohen, and the top state leaders preached to us about the urgency to vaccinate and document more than once last week and gave us a call to action. As health departments in NC continue to do, day after day, we have stepped up and delivered. But instead of the state having trust in these faithful public servants, it is my understanding our allocations were diluted to be sent to urban, large scale events being hosted by state partners. It is really hard to describe what a stab in the back this feels like. The very teams that have busted their butts for 11 months have been shafted and it is beyond disappointing and hurtful. I have it on good record from a few people that things in Raleigh were pretty heated Friday afternoon because there were at least a couple of partners who were trying to stand up for local (and especially rural) public health.

I love my community, just as my local health director colleagues do across the state. The motivation to work 7 days a week for nearly 11 months is to do everything in our power to help improve the health and wellbeing of the people we serve. In clinics planned last week and executed this week we provided and documented approximately 2900 doses this past week alone. We vaccinated nearly 1200 people yesterday in our largest mass clinic to date. Not one person was in our building for more than 30 minutes (entrance to exit, including their required 15 minute monitoring time). It was an extraordinarily successful event and demonstrated to us that we easily have the capacity in Dare County to vaccinate 2,000 people per day at our clinics. Yes, 2000 PEOPLE IN DARE COUNTY PER DAY! Local public health, even in non-urban areas, can stand up mighty teams and deliver extraordinary results.

We have had faith and trust in the state’s leadership throughout this pandemic and we expect the same courtesy. The state has to find a way to put more doses in local health departments and not redirect them to large scale events with corporate partners. The state also needs to direct doses to health departments who are consistently following the phase guidelines and not just vaccinating anyone who gets in line. To hear about the 16,000 and 30,000 doses being administered at a few large scale events in urban areas is a true slap in the face to rural areas who have demonstrated the capability to deliver (and are only begging for 700 doses).

This mid stream shift of dose allocation away from rural local public health departments is forcing many of us to now have to call thousands of people age 65 and over and postpone their appointment until who knows when. Dare County needs 700 additional doses this week to prevent that from happening but it doesn’t look like we will be getting any additional doses, yet 30,000 doses are going to be administered this coming week at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte?

https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nc/charlotte/news/2021/01/22/atrium-health-begins-covid-19-vaccine-distributions-at-charlotte-motor-speedway

Anyway, to quote one of my colleagues from the many emails between health directors this weekend, “Terrible position (NC DHHS) put the local partners that have been killing themselves trying to help you. With partners like that you sure don’t need enemies”.

I think it is important for you to know what a kick in the stomach many of us feel we have received.

WRAL-TV reported NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen took responsibility in a conference call with health department and hospital leaders Monday afternoon for pressing them to use up as much of their vaccine allotments as possible last week.

The state asked hospitals and health departments in recent weeks to speed up and burn through a backlog of doses so the federal government wouldn’t punish the state by reducing future shipments, according to WRAL. But the new pace didn’t mean the state would receive more than the roughly 120,000 first doses it has been getting each week.

“I apologize for not being more clear,” Cohen said on the afternoon call. “I own that and I apologize. It has put you all in a difficult, difficult position.”

“As long as we are getting such a small amount of vaccine as a state, there are going to be challenges and shortages as we try to ensure equitable access to vaccine, while getting shots into arms quickly. We understand this is hard for providers who are doing everything right,” Cohen said in a statement issued after the conference call.

NCDHHS said they will be sharing on Tuesday more detailed guidance on the process for allocations for the coming weeks “to ensure more transparency and certainty now that the state has largely exhausted the backlog of vaccine supply.”

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Sam Walker is news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3. Reach him at swalker3@jammediallc.com