So far, 11.9 percent of Haywood County’s estimated population has received a first dose, as compared to 7.5 percent of Macon’s, 7.9 percent of Swain’s and 5.8 percent of Jackson’s, according to Feb. 1 numbers on the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services website and 2019 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, 7.6 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose.
Allison Richmond, public information officer for Haywood’s Emergency Management Team, said the county’s success is due to intense collaboration and a drive-thru vaccination model that was first developed last spring for COVID-19 testing.
“It’s truly a community effort,” she said. “Coming together, putting all the egos aside and working on one common purpose is what we find we’re doing really well. We’re getting some requests for, ‘How do we do this over here?’ It feels good to have brought all those resources together and to have been able to serve the community this way.”
Haywood County has been holding two vaccination clinics each week at the Smoky Mountain Event Center, formerly known as the fairgrounds, last week vaccinating 2,000 people at those clinics. The Haywood County Department of Health and Human Services received 500 first doses last week, not 2,000, but for the past couple weeks it’s been pooling its allotment with the Haywood Regional Medical Center to deploy all first doses at collaborative vaccination events.
The county expects to receive a smaller number of doses this week and for that reduced allotment to continue for the next few weeks as the state allocates resources to much larger vaccination events in the state’s urban centers. However, Haywood expects to have nearly all of its 75 and older age group vaccinated in the next few weeks and will then move on to people 65 and older.
Over in Jackson County, meanwhile, the number of first doses increased by just 151 between Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, mainly due to the fact that the county’s health department received only 100 doses last week while Harris Regional Hospital got zero. Previously, the entities had been receiving 500-700 first doses per week between them. As a result, Jackson County had to cancel its second planned drive-thru clinic last week, depleting all 100 first doses during a single event on Jan. 28.
Swain and Macon counties did slightly better last week, deploying first doses to 173 people and 354 people, respectively, inching up the percent of population vaccinated by just over 1 percent in each county.
However, the pace will likely pick up in Jackson over the next week. The health department will receive 300 first doses this week, and the hospital will get 100. The health department has been told to expect 200 doses per week for the next three weeks, and the hospital has been told it will hold steady at 100 over the same period. A team of six National Guardsmen has been assisting with the vaccination effort since Jan. 20 and will remain on duty until at least Feb. 26.
Blue Ridge Health is also offering COVID-19 vaccinations in Jackson County, receiving 1,300 first doses last week and 1,400 last week for distribution at its clinics in Haywood, Jackson, Transylvania, Henderson, Polk and Rutherford counties. Of these, 100 went to Haywood and 400 to Jackson. WCU will soon be offering public clinics, with the University of North Carolina System on Jan. 29 announcing that 23 mobile cold-storage units were en route to all 15 research institutions in the UNC system. WCU is also one of three UNC schools chosen to offer vaccination clinics to the public, but no information is yet available on when those clinics might launch.
Up on the plateau, the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau COVID-19 Vaccine Initiative has given out about 900 first doses in two vaccination events held at the Highlands Recreation Center Jan. 20 and Jan. 24. The initiative is driven by 18 different community partner organizations and 120 volunteers who aim to help the Macon and Jackson County health departments vaccinate rural communities in Cashiers and Highlands.
“We targeted our many elderly neighbors in Phase 2 who have difficulty in traveling to Franklin and Sylva for the vaccine,” said Robin Tindall, CEO of the Highlands Cashiers Health Fund, one of the initiative’s leaders. “The HCHF has been involved in organizing volunteers, and I just can’t say enough about how overwhelming it has been to experience this outpouring of our community coming together to offer their talents.”
Volunteers include physicians, pharmacists, medical professionals, town officials, technology experts and numerous other community members manning a daily call center at 828.526.1310, as well as an appointment schedule and Facebook page. No doses have been received since Jan. 24, but the organization has a wait list of nearly 1,100 people, 864 of whom are over the age of 65. The plan is to offer weekly vaccination events for at least 12 weeks, as long as vaccines are available.
North Carolina surpassed the 1 million mark of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered across the state last Friday. This milestone capped a week when the state’s vaccine providers administered more than 99 percent of first doses, according to a state press release.
“I am so grateful to our vaccine partners across the state who continue working in innovative ways to make sure North Carolinians have a spot to take their shot. It is incumbent on all of us to use the limited supply of vaccine we have as quickly and equitably as possible, finding new ways to meet people where they are,” said N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen.
The press release acknowledged that vaccine supply continues to be very low and that wait times are expected.
For the next three weeks, the state is guaranteeing baseline vaccine allocations to providers. Approximately 90,000 “baseline” doses are allocated based on population data from the State Center for Health Statistics to provide vaccine to all 100 counties.
The 55,000 “set-aside” doses of the state’s allocation are going to counties with higher numbers of people 65 and older with low income; counties with higher numbers of historically marginalized populations 65 and older and counties that received fewer doses per population in previous weeks.
Priority will also go to new vaccine providers who will provide greater access to rural and underserved communities and those who can provide vaccines to long-term care facilities not participating in the federal program. Community vaccination events geographically spread throughout the state will also take priority.
News editor Jessi Stone contributed to this report.
For information about vaccination opportunities in your county, visit the county health department’s website.