More than 2,000 Rowan Countians vaccinated across three events

Published 12:10 am Sunday, February 14, 2021

By Natalie Anderson and Josh Bergeron
news@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While steady, cold rain made for a dreary day outside, pastor Dee Ellison said Saturday “the sun is shining inside” during one of three mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics held in Salisbury.

“The Lord has sent us a healing,” added Rev. Roy Dennis of Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church.

Across Rowan County, more than 2,000 people received a COVID-19 vaccination at one of three different sites. This week, the Rowan County Health Department received nearly 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. In addition to its baseline allocation of 300, the state provided an “equity allocation” to help counties or populations that have fallen behind in vaccinations per capita.

Health department staff administered close to 1,000 vaccinations at the West End Plaza, while Novant Health staff vaccinated 650 patients at the J.F. Hurley YMCA during its first mass vaccination clinic focusing on equitable distribution. And at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, 800 veterans also received a shot in the arm.

Mistrust, misinformation and transportation barriers are three obstacles local leaders grapple with as they continue to encourage vaccinations, particularly among Black and Hispanic and Latino North Carolinians, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Since March 2020, Black North Carolinians have comprised 25% of all COVID-19 deaths, despite only making up 22% of the state population. Hispanic North Carolinians comprise 22% of all cases despite making up nearly 10% of the population.

Natalie Anderson/Salisbury Post — Local resident Mary Ramsey (left) received a COVID-19 vaccination shot from Ashely Black, a nurse at the Wallace Cancer Center, during a mass vaccination event hosted by Novant Health Rowan Medical Center staff on Saturday, Feb. 13.

Those concerns have sparked local religious leaders to stay in frequent communication with community leaders to continue ensuring equitable distribution of the vaccine and to educate those who have some hesitation.

“I think that trust plays a major role in whether people take the vaccine,” Oliver said. “(There’s) a history of abuse toward people of color that now causes impacts, and people are worried about taking the vaccine because of that. I do believe that public health plays a major role in trying to reeducate and talk about trust. It’s important that we’re out in the community doing things, answering questions.”

Desiree Dunston, senior director of Professional and Support Services at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center, said it’s important that equitable distribution of the vaccine is a grassroots effort among churches and community organizations that locals trust. Dennis said he’s in the process of inviting health care experts to a Wednesday night service to answer his congregation’s questions about the vaccine.

Gloria Polk of Granite Quarry was one person who received her first shot at the Novant event Saturday. While doctors have been reaching out to their patients to encourage them to get the shot, Polk said she called and asked because she was ready to receive it.

Her husband, Steven, wasn’t able to receive the vaccination since he’s younger than 65. But to anyone hesitant or skeptical about receiving it, he says, “If you want life back to normal, this is the first step.”

Yvonne Dixon, director of health equity at Novant, said equity is “the highest level of health.” And though it’s a conversation that has been needed for a long time, she’s glad we’ve reached this point.

“We can do this,” Dixon said. “We just need to come together. Trust is a big issue. But this is the first step for us.”

Dr. Trevor Allison, a Black physician who works for Novant, said it sends a powerful message for patients to see him receive the vaccine.

Right down the road at around 10 a.m., staff at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center celebrated a milestone as they vaccinated the 10,000th veteran in the Salisbury VA Health Care System. Mass vaccination events were held at the Salisbury, Charlotte and Kernersville locations. The Salisbury location vaccinated about 800 veterans, Charlotte vaccinated 300 veterans and Kernersville vaccinated 500 veterans. More than 8,000 veterans and nearly 2,000 employees have been vaccinated across all three campuses.

VA leaders said about 22 veterans were vaccinated every 15 minutes on Saturday. Salisbury VA Chief of Staff Dr. Randall Gehle said clinics serve as a good way to “get the vaccines off our shelf.”

He anticipates about 60% of all veterans will receive the vaccine, with the rate of employees mirroring that.

“I’m tired of seeing COVID deaths,” Gehle said. “I’m tired of seeing folks in the ICU die. I’m excited to get out of that phase.”

While health department staff continue to vaccinate those eligible in groups one and two, the VA, which receives doses of the vaccine directly from the federal government, is vaccinating veterans aged 65 and older, frontline essential workers and veterans younger than 65 who have CDC-defined high-risk conditions.

Natalie Anderson/Salisbury Post — Navy veteran Lovely Hibbler was one of 800 veterans to be vaccinated during a mass event at the W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center on Saturday, Feb. 13.

Navy veteran Lovely Hibbler was among the veterans who received the first dose on Saturday. A social worker who works in a hospital in Charlotte, receiving the injection on Saturday gave her hope, she said.

“We’ve got to get this under control,” Hibbler said. “I’m willing to try this, but we need more people in America to, too.”

Army veteran Neil P. Mangan said his wife works as a nurse in the emergency room for Novant Health. So, he knows the vaccine is “extraordinarily important.” His decision to receive his first dose was “relatively simple.”

“I want to be prepared,” he said. “It will feel good when we can go out to eat again without exposure.”

As of Thursday, North Carolina reports a total of 1.48 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across the state from health care providers. A total of 149,905 doses have been administered to staff and residents of long-term care facilities via a federal program. In Rowan County, a total of 10,683 doses have been administered, not including those in long-term care facilities, the Salisbury VA or the doses administered Saturday.

Next week, the health department expects to return to its 300-dose baseline allocation. But that baseline doesn’t include allocations for Walgreens, Novant Health or the Salisbury VA.

Natalie Anderson/Salisbury Post — The Salisbury VA vaccinated 800 veterans at the W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center on Saturday, Feb. 13 during a mass vaccination event across all three campuses.

Oliver said county health directors across the state are asking for an allocation specifically for educators and people who work at schools once a limited move into phase three begins on Feb. 24. She expressed concern with vaccinating people working in education if the county is forced to use the same 300-dose allocation.

“We’re gonna get it,” Oliver said. “We’re gonna give it, but we don’t know how long it’s going to take us because of the amount of vaccines we get weekly.”

She said health officials have gauged interest among local educators for receiving a vaccine and are pleased with the amount of interest.

She added that the health department currently has a public health communications team that’s focusing on educating the local community about the vaccine and the importance in receiving it.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.