Novant, Atrium have started giving first vaccinations to public

CHARLOTTE — Atrium Health said Wednesday morning that they have begun giving COVID-19 vaccinations to the general public, starting with those 75 or older.

This comes as North Carolina moves from Phase 1A to Phase 1B of its vaccine distribution plan. The first group in Phase 1B is adults 75 or older, regardless of their health status or living situation.

Atrium officials said their first patient on Wednesday was 87-year-old Allen Laymon, who said he wanted to get vaccinated to encourage others to do the same.

“I wanted to get the vaccine and I want to encourage other people to do it because this is may be the last opportunity for us to make the virus go away,” Laymon said.

Atrium Health, which was the first health system in North Carolina to administer an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer, started its first vaccinations to the public at 7 a.m. Wednesday.

“Making this vaccine available to the many diverse communities that Atrium Health serves is a crucial step closer to defeating this virus,” Dr. Gary Little, chief medical officer at Atrium Health, said. “We’re working to ensure the distribution of the vaccine is inclusive and with as few barriers as possible. Scheduling and receiving the vaccine when it’s available is the best way we can all take part in ending this pandemic, while saving many lives in the process.”

The health system said it started reaching out to its patients 75 years old and older on Monday with details on scheduling their appointment to get vaccinated.

According to Atrium, over 160,000 emails have been sent to current patients who qualify for Phase 1B, Group 1. The health system said many have already taken advantage and have scheduled their appointments easily through their existing MyAtriumHealth account. Those who don’t have an MyAtriumHealth account, can create one or schedule a vaccination appointment by phone, if assistance is needed.

Atrium said vaccination appointments are required due to current vaccine supply and storage requirements.

According to Atrium, over 10,200 of its Charlotte-area employees have received their first dose of the vaccine as part of Phase 1A. Novant said its team members who already got their first dose will get the second dose sometime this week.

Novant said Tuesday that patients 75 and older will be contacted directly with information to schedule an appointment for the coronavirus vaccine.

The health system started administering some vaccines to the new group Tuesday afternoon at a clinic in the Charlotte area, but it was part of a test run to make sure their vaccine plan was effective. More patients 75 years or older were vaccinated on Wednesday.

“We are eager to get to work vaccinating the most vulnerable citizens and support the state’s decision to advance to this next phase,” said Carl Armato, president and CEO of Novant Health. “With almost half of our patient facing team members in phase 1a having scheduled or received their vaccine, we believe extending to phase 1b will have a positive, downstream impact on both our communities-at-large and our health care system.”

Hospitals are not offering vaccinations and Novant said it will be adding additional locations as soon as possible.

Eligible patients with Novant will get a notification through their MyChart account, prompting them to schedule an appointment.

Patients who do not have MyChart are encouraged to sign up at MyNovant.org. If a patient is age 75 or older, but they do not have access to MyChart or have not received communications, they can call 855-NH-VAC-4U (855-648-2248) for scheduling assistance.

Due to limited vaccine availability, Novant Health is only vaccinating at centralized locations in the Winston-Salem and Charlotte areas at this time. More sites will be added in the weeks ahead as more vaccine becomes available.

“We understand our patients and communities are hoping to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” added Armato. “Our teams are working around-the-clock to vaccinate as many people as supply allows. We will not stop until everyone who wants a vaccine gets a vaccine.”

Officials plan to administer 800 to 1,000 vaccines a week at some point. They are also working on setting up a hotline for patients to get more information but said they will contact anyone who is eligible under Group 1 Phase 1B directly. Officials said they know what phase patients are in and they have to match available vaccines, so they’re asking for patience as they work through the process.

Those who want to get the vaccine will go through their own health systems, meaning that eligible Novant patients will get their vaccine through Novant and eligible Atrium Health patients will get their vaccine through Atrium. Those not attached to a healthcare system will get their vaccine through the health department.

NC to move into next phase of COVID-19 vaccination schedule this week

This week, North Carolina will move into Phase 1B of its coronavirus vaccination schedule.

Until now, the vaccine was only available to health care workers fighting COVID-19 and long-term care staff and residents (Phase 1A).

Phase 1B will include three groups and the priority is given by occupation and age: Anyone over the age of 75, healthcare and essential workers over 50 years old, and then all other healthcare and essential workers under 50 years old.

Of the near 500,000 doses given to North Carolina, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said only about 122,000 -- about 24 percent of them -- have been given out so far.

The state’s top health official told Channel 9 those numbers may be wrong because the state gave a lot of its doses back to the federal government to help vaccinate long-term care facilities.

State health officials also said some sites distributing the vaccine have been dealing with “staffing challenges during the holidays and other work related to the COVID surge.” They also said, “there are anecdotal reports of people who have declined to receive the vaccine when their turn comes up.”

In Mecklenburg County, the 1B vaccinations will require an appointment at the health department or a hospital, according to Health Director Gibbie Harris. But leaders said they don’t always know how much vaccine they’re getting and that makes it hard to set appointments.

The county will have given out 68% of its total doses by the end of Tuesday.

>> 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.

Cabarrus County will start administering its Phase 1B vaccinations on Wednesday.

Gaston County will start Phase 1B vaccinations on Friday. The county has already vaccinated 600 frontline healthcare workers and first responders.

Here’s a look at the rest of the phases:

  • Phase Two starts with anyone from ages 65 to 74; next, those ages 16 to 64 with a medical condition that puts them at higher risk; it also includes jail and prison inmates, anyone living in a group setting and other essential workers
  • Phase Three includes college and high school students 16 or older
  • Phase Four will be anyone who wants to get vaccinated

Harris said she would like us to get to Phase Four by April.

To help speed up the vaccination process, state health officials said they are they’re continuing to educate the public about the vaccine to overcome any hesitancy and in some places the National Guard will help with process.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department will be offering the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals that qualify for it in Phase 1B on Jan. 6.

In Phase 1B, the vaccine will be made available first to Group 1 adults 75 years or older regardless of medical condition or living situation. This next phase of vaccinations will begin Jan. 6.

The County is opening a limited number of appointments for Phase 1B, Group 1 based on the current vaccine supply for both Phase 1A and Phase 1B.

By appointment only COVID-19 vaccine clinics will be held at Bojangles Coliseum, 2700 East Independence Blvd., beginning Jan. 6 at 8:30 a.m. Due to limited vaccine availability and the need to follow COVID-19 safety precautions, appointments are required for all eligible recipients.

Mecklenburg County residents who are 75 years or older may make an appointment for their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine online beginning at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan 5. Instructions are available here.

Eligible Phase 1B Group 1 members may make a first dose appointment online here or here. Please read the appointment instructions carefully.

Phone appointments may be made by calling 980-314-9400 and selecting Option 3 beginning at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 5. If you leave a message, the county will attempt to return your call within 24-48 business hours.

Appointment slots begin Wednesday, Jan. 6 and will be limited by vaccine supply. If you are unable to secure an appointment right away, please continue to check for updates. As more vaccines are made available, additional appointment times will be made available. The county will continue to provide updates here.

To access parking for the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Bojangles Coliseum BOplex, please use the entrance on Briar Creek Road. Briar Creek Road is exit 244 on East Independence Blvd. For close parking, please use sections 10-15 in the parking lot.

Instructions regarding the second dose appointment will be provided following your appointment for your first dose.

As more vaccines become available, guidance for the following Phase 1B groups will be released:

  • Group 2: Health care and frontline essential workers who are 50 years of age or older.
  • Group 3: Frontline workers of any age and health care workers of any age, regardless of whether they work directly with COVID-19 patients.

This phase is anticipated to begin in late January.

The County will release additional information about who can be vaccinated in later phases once updated guidance from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is released. You can view the interim prioritization framework on our coronavirus vaccine webpage. We will share the allocation and prioritization guides for future vaccine phases as it is made available.

[Mecklenburg County COVID vaccine distribution prioritization framework for health care workers in Phase 1A and Phase 1B]

Cabarrus Health Alliance seeks volunteers for future COVID-19 vaccine clinics

Cabarrus Health Alliance (CHA), the public health authority in Cabarrus County, has received requests from community members for opportunities to help with the COVID-19 pandemic response. At this time, CHA is actively recruiting volunteers to assist with future COVID-19 mass vaccination clinics. Volunteer opportunities may range from assisting with administering the vaccine, to traffic control and forms screening.

Once the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) allows local health departments to expand to additional phases of community vaccination, CHA will contact and coordinate volunteer opportunities with those who complete the online volunteer survey.

Individuals who are interested in volunteering can complete the volunteer survey here.

For those who are interested in volunteering, CHA commits to:

  • providing appropriate and timely training to those able to serve
  • matching volunteers with appropriate assignments based on skills and comfort level
  • ensuring a safe environment where volunteers feel valued for their contributions

Individuals should know that completing the survey does not commit them to do anything at this time. Health officials will contact volunteers when opportunities to serve arise and to ensure that they are an appropriate fit.

Those interested can submit questions to healthinfo@cabarrushealth.org or call (704) 920-1213.

Damany Lewis

Damany Lewis, wsoctv.com

Damany Lewis is an anchor and reporter for Channel 9.