Update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Chatham County

Pittsboro, NC – As 2020 turns into 2021, the Chatham County Public Health Department (CCPHD) is hard at work sharing information and updates about the COVID-19 vaccine and giving the vaccine to those in the first priority group like healthcare providers. The following sections provide updates on where things currently stand.

COVID-19 vaccine
photo by Daniel Schludi

Vaccine Distribution Has Begun

A tested, safe and effective vaccine will be available to all who want it, but resources are currently limited and will continue to be for the next few months. CCPHD staff have begun administering the first dose of COVID-19 vaccines to frontline healthcare workers who are working in close proximity to COVID-19-positive patients. Among the first recipients from the department was CCPHD Medical Director Dr. Rathika Nimalendran, who shared that she is getting the vaccine “to protect my family, friends, and community.”

Through the first week of vaccinations, according to data from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), 708 individuals in Chatham County received the first dose of vaccine. The numbers continue to increase as Chatham Hospital and the CCPHD — along with Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy reaching long-term care facilities in Chatham County through a federal government program — work to vaccinate those in Phase 1a of the state’s prioritization guidance. 

“We are excited to be giving COVID-19 vaccines, which is a milestone in our pandemic response,” said Chatham County Public Health Director Mike Zelek. “This process will take time though, and our current focus remains on vaccinating those in Phase 1a who are at highest risk of exposure and severe illness. We will update the Chatham community once we are ready to move to additional phases, which will depend on how quickly we reach Phase 1a individuals and our ongoing supply of vaccine.”

Prioritization Guidance Updated

On Wednesday, December 30, NCDHHS updated its prioritization criteria, clarifying and in some cases expanding the groups eligible to receive the vaccine in Phases 1a, 1b, 2 and 3. The guidance was constructed in response to new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The CCPHD follows this prioritization criteria, which is subject to change, in its vaccine distribution and administration efforts. 

The exact timeline for the beginning of these phases and groups is not set in stone. However, Phase 1a vaccinations are expected to continue over the first couple weeks of January, after which the vaccine will likely become available for those in Phase 1b, Group 1 (adults 75 years and older). Vaccinations for those in Phase 1b, Group 2 (health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older) will likely begin in late January or early February, followed by Phase 1b, Group 3 and then Phase 2. This timeline will depend on supply of vaccine, and only those who are in Phase 1a are currently being scheduled.

The new prioritization is as follows:

Phase 1a: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 & Long-Term Care staff and residents.

  • Health care workers caring for and working directly with patients with COVID-19, including staff responsible for cleaning and maintenance in those areas
  • Health care workers administering vaccine
  • Long-term care staff and residents—people in skilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes.

Phase 1b: Adults 75 years or older and frontline essential workers.

There is not enough vaccine for everyone in this phase to be vaccinated at the same time. Vaccinations will be available to groups in the following order:

Group 1: Anyone 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation

Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older. The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers.

Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age

Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness.

Vaccinations will happen by group in the following order:

Group 1: Anyone 65-74 years old, regardless of health status or living situation

Group 2: Anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe disease from COVID such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, Type 2 diabetes, among others, regardless of living situation

Group 3: Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function.

Group 4: Essential workers not yet vaccinated.

The CDC defines these as workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (e.g., construction), finance (e.g., bank tellers), information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, and public safety (e.g., engineers), and public health workers.

Phase 3: Students

  • College and university students
  • K-12 students age 16 and over. Younger children will only be vaccinated when the vaccine is approved for them.

Phase 4: Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination.

More on the prioritization guidance, including a full list of the phases and a FAQ, can be found online at yourspotyourshot.nc.gov. CCPHD will be working with community partners to inform the Chatham County community about when Phase 1b will begin.

Future Vaccine Registration

The CCPHD has received many questions from community members regarding when they will receive their first dose and how they will be contacted. More information about vaccination enrollment will be shared with the Chatham community next week. The CCPHD encourages residents to closely follow the department’s webpages for COVID-19 vaccines to get the latest information, and more news releases will be published as appropriate to share important details. Please note that phone lines continue to be affected by the cyber incident and have limited functionality. 

Important Webpages

Participate in a COVID-19 Vaccine Community Survey

As the CCPHD moves forward, the department is interested in the community’s questions and thoughts about the COVID-19 vaccine and if they plan to get it. Please help gather information by taking this brief survey.

Don’t Let Down Your Guard

There are a few other key things to remember during this time, including the following:

  • The vaccine is administered in two doses. Receiving just one dose does not provide the full immunity the vaccine is designed to provide. 
  • Following the 3 Ws, including wearing a mask, and avoiding gatherings is still important, even if someone has already received both doses of the vaccine. 
  • As of Wednesday, North Carolina had a record-high number of individuals hospitalized due to COVID-19 (3,339) and the highest percent of tests returning positive over a two-week period (14.8%). While the production and distribution of vaccines is good news, the pandemic is not over.

Additionally, CCPHD has recorded videos on a few common vaccine-related questions. They can be found on a YouTube playlist here: https://bit.ly/2KRlsZo. New videos will be added as this process moves forward.

“We appreciate the support and patience of the Chatham community as we navigate this new and important process,” added Zelek. “The most important thing we can all do is continue to wear our masks, avoid gathering with others, and get the vaccine when it is our turn.”

The Chatham County Public Health Department can be found online at chathamnc.org/publichealth and facebook.com/chathamhealth