AVERY COUNTY — The COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Avery County on Monday, Dec. 21, with 600 doses set to be administered by the Avery County Health Department as prioritized by the state’s vaccination plan.
According to TRHD Director Diane Creek, the health district has begun immunizing those in the community who are most likely to be exposed to the virus as part of their job. The same process has begun taking place in Mitchell and Yancey counties as well, after Mitchell received 600 doses of the vaccine and Yancey received 500 doses last week.
“We will focus on group 1A from the state’s priority chart. That includes front line workers, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), people who are doing Covid testing, staff who are doing the vaccinating. We will only have three employees from Avery County Health Department who will receive the vaccine. The rest of our staff will wait for a later group,” Creek said.
The state vaccination plan includes four phases through which the vaccine is set to be administered. Phase one includes two separate phases that will focus on administering the vaccine to two specific groups of people. Phase 1A includes healthcare workers at high risk of exposure to the virus, or workers who are deemed vital, during the initial vaccine response. Phase 1A also includes long-term care staff and residents.
Phase 1B includes adults with a high risk of complications and those with two or more chronic conditions within a group setting. These groups include migrant farm and fishery workers, incarcerated individuals, homeless shelter residents, health care workers, frontline workers and other adults. Phase two includes the same groups but for those with less than two chronic conditions. Phase three includes workers in essential industries critical to the function of society who are at an increased risk of exposure, as well as K-12 students. Phase four includes the rest of the population.
The TRHD has posted a vaccine request form on the Avery County Health Department social media page which it will use to contact residents to inform them of what group they fall under and when they can expect to receive the vaccine. The form is not required in order to receive the vaccine.
As part of group 1A, long-term care facility staff and residents are preparing to receive the first doses of the vaccine as the statewide rollout continues. The federal government has contracted with Walgreens and CVS pharmacies to provide the vaccine to this critical group.
According to Dee Brooks, division director of clinical services for Affinity Living Group (the company that owns Cranberry House in Newland) long-term care facilities are expected to begin receiving the first doses of the vaccine by the end of the year.
“We are partnered with CVS Pharmacy. For the state of North Carolina, they are providing vaccinations to residents and employees of long-term care settings. We anticipate that we will receive this week a schedule of when clinics for our residents and employees will be held,” Brooks said.
While COVID-19 tests are available at select CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, do not expect to walk into these establishments for a COVID-19 vaccine anytime soon. As part of the company’s initial vaccination efforts, CVS pharmacists and staff will be providing doses of the vaccines on site at long-term care facilities, including the 144 locations owned and operated Affinity Living Group.
In a press release published on Monday, Dec. 21, CVS Pharmacy expects to vaccinate up to four million residents and staff across 40,000 long-term care facilities nationwide as part of its vaccination response efforts, with the company’s rollout planned to begin in North Carolina on Monday, Dec. 28.
“Vaccinating one of our most vulnerable populations is the latest milestone in our multifaceted pandemic response, which includes testing more than 10 million people for the virus since March. The eventual availability of COVID-19 vaccines in communities across the country will bring us one step closer to overcoming the most significant health challenge of our lifetime,” Karen S. Lynch, executive vice president of CVS Health, stated.
As is customary with the Moderna vaccine, recipients at long-term care facilities will have three dates set to receive their shots. According to Brooks, the first date will be a clinic date for residents and employees. In two to three weeks, CVS pharmacists and staff will return to administer the second shot. Then the third date will be for new employees that have been hired since the first clinical date, as well as new residents that have been moved in and those did not receive the first dose for various reasons.
CVS Pharmacy plans for the majority of residents and staff to be fully vaccinated three to four weeks after the initial visit. The company expects to complete its long-term care facility vaccination effort in approximately 12 weeks.
The news of the vaccination rollout plans comes as long-term care facilities in Avery County continue to fight outbreaks at their respective facilities. According to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services statistics on COVID-19 outbreaks, Life Care Center of Banner Elk has had five positive coronavirus cases among its staff and zero among its residents.
Meanwhile, NCDHHS reports 12 positive cases among staff at the Cranberry House, 49 positive cases among residents and 10 deaths among residents. For Heritage of Sugar Mountain Assisted Living, five cases have been reported among staff, 31 cases have been reported among residents, and four deaths have been reported among residents. COVID-19 outbreak statistics were last updated on December 22.
As Affinity Living Group anticipates its first doses of the vaccine, hope remains high as the potential end to the COVID-19 pandemic draws near.
“CVS has been a great partner,” Brooks said. “They have already provided us with the consent forms. So we have been having the conversation with our residents, their families and with our employees for several weeks in anticipation for the vaccination. It’s such a blessing that this is available to us, and (gives us) the opportunity to protect our residents and also protect those that care for them. This is a Christmas miracle.”