Vaccine appointments filled hours after opening for teachers, school staff in Meck County

CHARLOTTE — Thousands of teachers and other school employees across Mecklenburg County logged onto their computers or picked up their phones Friday to make a COVID-19 vaccination appointment.

Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said earlier this week that the county would follow Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement and start vaccinating teachers and school staff on Feb. 24.

The rest of Group 3 can start getting vaccinated on March 10.

[READ MORE: Cooper: Teachers will be first in line for vaccinations when Group 3 opens in 2 weeks]

The state announced Wednesday it will expand eligibility to Group 3, starting with educators and school personnel, on Feb. 24.

On Friday at 8:30 a.m., Mecklenburg County opened vaccine slots for teachers and school personnel for appointments beginning Feb. 24. The county also launched a waitlist on Friday for people to be contacted when a spot becomes open. At around 2:30 p.m., the county said all vaccination appointments through March 9 had been filled.

[CLICK HERE TO SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT]

The appointments were expected to fill up quickly, but the county told Channel 9 their servers were ready to go. They scheduled 3,500 appointments to get a vaccine at Bojangles Coliseum.

This marks the first time teachers in Group 3 are eligible. They signed up for dates from Feb. 24 through March 10.

More information about appointment availability for the rest of Group 3 will be released before March 10.

Group 1 and 2 members and eligible education and childcare workers in Group 3 were able to make a first dose appointment on the county’s website.

When more spots open up, phone appointments can be made by calling 980-314-9400 and selecting Option 3. If you leave a message, the county will attempt to return your call within 24-48 business hours.

If you sign up on the waitlist, the county will notify you when an appointment becomes available.

Shortly after the appointments opened, many reported that the site had crashed and that the phone line was down too.

The county said it was experiencing high volume and issued the following statement:

As anticipated, Public Health is experiencing a high volume of calls to the appointment hotline and traffic to the appointment website this morning. We are excited and encouraged by the interest and response from our residents in Groups 1, 2 and 3 (healthcare workers with current in-person patient contact and long-term care staff and residents, individuals 65+ and pre-K through 12th grade educators, school staff, and childcare providers) to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

If calling the hotline to make an appointment, please be patient and leave a message if prompted. Calls are being returned throughout the day. If using the website appointment system, it is moving slower than usual due to the high volume of traffic to the website. Please be patient and continue to follow the steps to book an appointment.

Once these appointment times are full, scheduling will be suspended. We will notify the public as more vaccine and appointments become available. The appointment scheduling process will be the same. As a reminder, individuals can now join the formal vaccine appointment waitlist accessible at MeckNC.gov/COVID-19 or by calling the COVID-19 hotline 980-314-9400.

As a reminder, individuals is Groups 1, 2 and 3 can also reach out to their primary health care provider regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

Again, we appreciate your patience and continued support through this process.

By noon, things seemed to be running as normal again. We checked again later in the afternoon and got a message saying, “The site is temporarily down.”

The county released a statement around 2:30 p.m. saying all vaccination appointments through March 9 are filled. Health officials said residents will be notified when additional appointment become available.

Mecklenburg County Public Health’s full statement:

Thank you again for your patience and continued support in sharing this important vaccination information with the community as we work to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to Groups 1, 2 , and starting Feb. 24, pre-K through 12th grade educators, school staff, and childcare providers in Group 3.

At this time, all vaccination appointments through March 9 are filled. As vaccine supply increases, we will add additional appointments and notify residents when they become available. The appointment scheduling process will be the same.

As a reminder, individuals can now join the formal vaccine appointment waitlist accessible at MeckNC.gov/COVID-19 or by calling the COVID-19 hotline 980-314-9400 (Option 3 for English, Option 8 for Spanish). As additional appointment times become available, they will be filled using the waitlist.

In the meantime, eligible individuals in Groups 1 and 2 are encouraged to reach out to their primary care providers (if they have one) to discuss options for receiving the vaccine. Both Atrium Health and Novant Health will be offering vaccines to patients as well.

Public Health and other local vaccine providers have not yet received the shipment of COVID-19 vaccines for the week of February 9, 2021 due to shipping delays, partially related to inclement weather. We anticipate the shipments will not arrive until Monday, February 15, 2021. Public Health and other providers will postpone some appointments and events until these shipments arrive.

As of now, Public Health is postponing most 2nd dose appointments scheduled through StarMed for February 12, 2021 through February 15, 2021 and 1st dose appointments scheduled for the morning of February 15, 2021. Public Health’s weekend events will still be held. Patients do not need to call Public Health or StarMed to confirm appointments. Patients will be notified directly if they are impacted by the delays; new appointments are guaranteed and will be provided.

‘It was like Christmas’: Channel 9 talks to teacher who was able to get vaccine appointment in Meck County

Channel 9′s education reporter Elsa Gillis spoke to a teacher who was able to get an appointment after trying for hours.

Vanessa Pinello was one of the thousands of educators pining for a coveted vaccine appointment Friday morning, but when the clock struck 8:30 a.m., it didn’t go as planned.

“It just spooled and spooled and spooled, and kept saying that you need to reload,” she said. “By about 10 a.m., the website was completely down.”

Calling the county’s phone number didn’t work either.

“It was definitely a relief to know that we could get it, it was like Christmas, it was like this is great, and I think that’s what’s adding to the layer of frustration knowing it’s right there and available and we can’t get to it,” she said.

But after four hours, she told Gillis that the website was back up and she got a slot.

“This is just another layer of help that we know that we can have to combat the spread,” she said.

Pinello works in schools that serve preschool students with special needs. They are back 5 days a week starting Monday.

“Our children, some medically fragile and need a lot of support,” she said. “And they need that physical help there’s no doubt about that, so it’s very important for us to feel like we are going in and not possibly spreading it within our community, within our homes or bringing it in the schools. The last thing a teacher wants to do is God forbid get her children sick.”

CMS said it will be providing guidance to principals and other supervisors indicating that getting a vaccine is considered “part of the job” for employees who wish to be vaccinated. Therefore, supervisors will support employees using up to 1 to 2 hours to attend vaccine appointments that fall inside the workday. However, district officials said employees should always provide notice to their supervisors so that adequate coverage can be arranged when appointments fall within the workday.

More than 78,000 county residents have received the first dose

“I’m not sure what to say about that, to be honest,” Harris said when asked about teachers being prioritized over other essential frontline workers. “I would find it extremely difficult to prioritize one group over another.”

Harris said on Tuesday she was cautiously optimistic about the way COVID-19 is trending in Mecklenburg County. The county released vaccination statistics that showed more than 78,000 residents have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s only 7% of the population.

[Here’s everything you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine in North Carolina]

The county said 64% of the recipients are at least 65 years old.

The next phase of vaccinations includes frontline essential workers. Teachers and police officers are among the occupations that have been asking to be prioritized in the next rollout.

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Key metrics, such as case numbers and the percent positive rate, are declining across the county.

Harris is concerned about the number of outbreaks in congregate settings, which is 69 of them – an all-time high.