Having trouble getting a vaccine appointment? Here’s what to know about scheduling one

CHARLOTTE — The race to vaccinate recently took another big step forward in North Carolina, with 1.2 million people in the state now eligible to get the COVID-19 shot.

The rest of Group 3 is now able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 -- from food processing workers to elected officials, to police officers, firefighters and grocery store workers.

But with so many people eligible to get vaccinated, some are finding it hard to find an appointment.

As North Carolina expands COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to Groups 1, 2, and 3, sign-ups are picking up statewide. While supply has ramped up, aided in part by the recently-authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, demand is still overwhelming.

There’s a lot of frustration going around in terms of securing an appointment, with some placing themselves on several waitlists or traveling to a different county for a shot.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department has opened additional vaccine appointments. Those appointments are for people in Groups 1-3 and can be made for March 10-31. To make an appointment, click here or call 980-314-9400 and select Option 3 for English and Option 8 for Spanish.

For more information on making a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through Mecklenburg County, click here.

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Groups currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine include:

Group 1: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 & Long-Term Care staff and residents -- people in skilled nursing facilities, adult care homes and continuing care retirement communities).

Group 2: Anyone 65 years or older regardless of health status or living situation.

Group 3: Frontline essential workers who are required to be on-site for work:

  • Critical manufacturing
  • Education and childcare
  • Essential goods
  • Food and agriculture
  • Government and community services
  • Healthcare and public health
  • Public safety
  • Transportation

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Atrium Health was holding a mass vaccination clinic on Tuesday at Bank of America Stadium in uptown Charlotte. The three-day event will vaccinate those in Groups 1-3.

Tuesday’s spots are full, but you should continue checking for appointments through Thursday as people cancel them.

As Atrium and Novant continue to hold these mass vaccination clinics, they are asking people to cancel any appointments not needed.

“We are seeing an uptick and no-shows for both first appointments and second appointments,” said Nikki Nissen, the senior director and chief nursing officer for the Novant Health Medical Group. “And so again, that’s why we’re asking the public to be sure to cancel any appointments that you have with any of the systems, or come to our health departments if you’ve been able to locate an appointment earlier somewhere else -- just so we can plan better.”

Many of those in Groups 1 and 2 are still trying to get vaccinated, so opening up the rest of the next group has cut down on the available appointments. Depending on where you live, you may be able to sign up online or by calling a hotline.

The state is currently aiming for March 24 to open vaccines for Group 4.

Mecklenburg County Public Health (MCPH) is expanding its partnership with StarMed Healthcare to provide first doses at Bojangles Coliseum. People in Group 1 and Group 3 working in Mecklenburg County and Group 2 county residents 65 years and older can make a first dose appointment now at StarMed.Care or by calling MCPH COVID-19 Hotline at 980-314-9400 (Option 3 for English and Option 8 for Spanish).

If no appointments are available, those eligible may join the waitlist here.

MCPH continues to stress that everyone makes only one vaccine appointment. If you secure multiple appointments, please cancel any appointments you will not attend so that someone else can use that appointment. To cancel appointments made at MCPH clinics or for more questions, call the MCPH COVID-19 Hotline at 980-314-9400 (Option 3 for English and Option 8 for Spanish).

If you need a ride to your vaccination appointment, call the Mecklenburg County Transportation System at 980-314-7600.

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

More than 80,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in North Carolina last week as well, making it possible for officials to start vaccinating all frontline workers in Group 3.

Mecklenburg County received 10,000 of those doses and opened up additional vaccine appointments.

“WE ARE GETTING AHEAD OF THE GAME”

More people are getting access to vaccines across the Charlotte area and on Tuesday, reporter Ken Lemon spoke with people at a Gastonia pharmacy who were eager for the shot.

Hundreds of doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Gaston County earlier Tuesday in a small cooler, but there is more than enough to supply protection for hundreds of clients at Medical Center Pharmacy in Gastonia.

“It means a lot,” said Terry Coulter.

She came to the pharmacy on Tuesday to set up an appointment for her fiancée. He is a 64-year-old cancer survivor who also has heart and breathing problems.

“He needs to get it,” Coulter told Channel 9.

She said she has heard of people waiting several weeks to be able to book an appointment. Her fiancée will get a shot at the pharmacy next week.

“I think it’s awesome that they done picked up the speed and can get more people vaccinated,” Coulter said.

That process can be sped up because the vials delivered are part of a delivery of 12,690 doses that arrived in Gaston County Tuesday morning.

The county said the shipment was a mixture of first and second doses, but they have seen steady increases over the past six weeks.

“We are getting ahead of the game and that’s where we need to stay,” said the pharmacy’s co-owner, Don Thrower.

He told Channel 9 that he is now able to confirm appointment reservations with more confidence that the vaccination will be available. Thrower said vaccine production is starting to keep up with the rate of vaccination demand and he believes it will only get better.

“Next month, it will be 20 times more available than what’s available right now,” he said.

WHO’S TAKING APPOINTMENTS?

Most vaccine providers are taking appointments. Places like your county health department, Walgreens stores, local hospitals and some pharmacies are offering the vaccine.

While each provider is handling the process differently, many offer online sign-up forms allowing people to be added to a waiting list. Pharmacists encourage people to not sign-up for the same list multiple times.

James Brewster manages Park Road Books and told Channel 9 he has been face-to-face with customers inside the store for months. He said he and other frontline workers are ready to get vaccinated.

“It’s been on our radar and we would very much like to get the vaccine,” Brewster said.

>> Learn more about North Carolina’s plan for vaccine prioritization and distribution at NC DHHS COVID-19: Vaccines or view this Infographic of Vaccine Phases.

Group 3 workers can sign up to get the vaccine in the same way people did in Groups 1 and 2 -- by making appointments through vaccine providers like county health departments or hospitals like Novant and Atrium.

“I’ll go through my doctor, he’s with Novant,” said Brewster.

Some counties could hold special vaccination events for frontline workers. Catawba County Public Health said it is “working directly with Catawba County employers to coordinate group scheduling for their eligible workers who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This will help streamline the vaccination request process and minimize disruptions for the local workforce.”

It could be difficult for Group 3 workers to take off work for vaccination appointments, so some counties are considering hosting special vaccination events for these groups on the weekends, though nothing specific has been announced thus far.

Under the state’s current guidance posted online, people can get a vaccine in about three weeks if they have at least one of 18 eligible conditions, ranging from cancer and cystic fibrosis to being overweight or a current or former smoker.

North Carolina has stuck to an “honor code” when it comes to having people sign up for the shot. Officials expect those who are signing up to be honest about which group they belong to.

YOU CAN ALSO GET YOUR SHOT AT HARRIS TEETER

As of last week, some Harris Teeter pharmacies in the Charlotte area are giving out shots, but it may be difficult to find an appointment.

Channel 9 searched online and found most of them in Charlotte are booked, though there are some available at two Matthews’ locations.

RACE TO VACCINATE: WHERE THINGS STAND IN SOUTH CAROLINA

In South Carolina, the race to vaccinate advanced to Group 1B on Monday. That means nearly 3 million more people are now eligible to get their first dose.

Here’s a look at who qualifies:

  • Anyone 55 or older, regardless of health.
  • People 16-64 with some serious medical condition.
  • People with developmental and high-risk disabilities that increase the risk of illness
  • Frontline workers.

Part of this group is the state’s roughly 60,000 teachers and school staff. Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster repeated his call to urge schools to reopen full time.

“Parents must have the option of sending their children to school five days a week for face-to-face instruction,” he said. “That’s why they pay taxes.”

On Tuesday, Channel 9 learned that the Rock Hill community clinic is fully booked for the week because of the new rush. The clinic is scheduling appointments for next week.

North Carolina is not the only state expanding vaccine eligibility to those with serious underlying health issues. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced last Tuesday that his state would offer doses to medically vulnerable groups starting on Monday. People would be required to show proof confirming their high-risk medical condition.