‘Making public health history:’ Rowan County Health Department begins vaccinating staff

Published 12:10 am Thursday, December 24, 2020

By Natalie Anderson

SALISBURY — About nine months after returning from maternity leave in March to lead Rowan County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Public Health Director Nina Oliver was the first Rowan Health Department staff member to be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine Wednesday afternoon.

While sitting in a chair waiting to receive the vaccine around 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oliver recalled her thoughts in March, when she “didn’t think we’d get here.” She, like many others at the time who were unsure of how long the virus would stay with us, expected an end around August or September.

She called Wednesday’s experience “amazing” and said the shot felt just like her annual flu vaccination.

“We are making public health history,” Oliver said.

She added that it’s a historic moment because it’s likely people won’t see something like this pandemic again in their lifetimes.

While North Carolina received around 85,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week, Rowan County received its first shipment of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday. Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Massachusetts, was given emergency approval last week by the FDA.

Of the 2,100 total doses received in Rowan County, 1,260 were disbursed to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, which vaccinated its first group of staff Tuesday. That left 840 doses for the county health department.

On Wednesday, 22 of the 74 total staff members registered in the new system and completed a COVID-19 symptoms checklist before receiving their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. All received a reminder card to receive their second dose, which is 28 days from Wednesday, or Jan. 20.

Both vaccine brands require a second dose, with Pfizer’s second round needed in 21 days and Moderna’s second dose needed after 28 days.

Oliver has previously said it’s important that everyone receive their second dose on the specified date as it ensures the maximum protection offered.

Next week, Oliver said the health department will begin vaccinating others included in phase 1a using a drive-thru method at the Rowan County Health Department, located at 1811 E. Innes St. That includes first responders, EMS workers, law enforcement and any worker who comes into direct contact with the virus frequently or is critical to the COVID-19 response. CVS and Walgreens, in conjunction with the federal government, are using “strike teams” to administer the vaccine to long-term care residents and staff.

The West End Plaza has been designated the dispensing site once health officials move on to phase 1b. Those who are vaccinated early will visit the site to receive their second dose.

Dr. Lloyd Nickerson, clinical medical director at the Rowan Health Department, issued the standing order on Wednesday, which allows nurses to begin administering the vaccine — and he was excited to do so.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter,” he said.

Alyssa Harris, the county’s community health manager, received the vaccination right after Oliver. She said it was exciting to be at this point and be able to prevent unnecessary disease and death.

Harris is currently working on a coordinated campaign with the community that illustrates why they’re choosing to receive the vaccine. She acknowledges some may have skepticism with the vaccination currently, but she encourages anyone with questions talk to their doctor or reach out to the health department.

“It’s OK to have that pause, but don’t let it prevent you from receiving the vaccine,” she said.

Harris added that, while COVID-19 is a novel virus, health experts have been studying severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, since 2003 when it first emerged in Asia. SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name for COVID-19, which derives from a different strain of coronaviruses.

“We’re not starting from ground zero,” she said.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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