WATAUGA — Watauga County School employees are set to receive COVID-19 vaccines at an event Feb. 24 — the same day that the state is allowing vaccinations to open to groups in Phase 3.
Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Feb. 10 that those in Phase 3 could begin receiving vaccines on Feb. 24, with educators being the first group eligible in that phase. Both AppHealthCare and Appalachian Regional Healthcare System will offer appointments to teachers and staff to get their vaccine at the Watauga Community Recreation Center on Feb. 24.
“This is incredibly positive news as we continue to work to protect our educators and help them remain safe and healthy,” said Scott Elliott, WCS superintendent. “While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Academy of Pediatrics have stated recently that vaccinating teachers does not need to be a condition of reopening schools, it does give us greater assurance that we can both bring students back to more in person instruction while also protecting our teachers.”
Elliott said 600 of the approximately 700 WCS employees are signed up to get the vaccine at the Feb. 24 event. Elliott anticipates the majority of WCS employees will want to receive a vaccine.
AppHealthCare spokesperson Melissa Bracey said the increase in vaccine allocations to Watauga County and its partnerships with vaccine providers in the county — like ARHS, Boone Drug and High Country Community Health — allows health officials the capacity to vaccinate WCS employees.
AppHealthCare’s next two allocations include 200 Moderna and 3,510 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the week of Feb. 15 and 600 Moderna the week of Feb. 22. The dosage amount listed with Pfizer includes extra doses included in each vial.
“Additionally, we plan to include preK-12 teachers and staff from other schools as well as childcare providers,” Bracey said.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, vaccines scheduled to arrive on Feb. 16 and Feb. 17, but that were not shipped due to weather, are now scheduled to arrive between Feb. 22 and 24. Allocations for the next week are also expected to arrive during the same time period. Typically, providers receive COVID-19 vaccine shipments of first doses on Tuesday and Wednesday and shipments of second doses on Thursday and Friday.
AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said she is pleased more vaccines are arriving in Watauga County.
“Increased allocation of vaccines to our area will allow us to reach out to all those currently on our interest form list from Group 1 and Group 2 to offer a vaccine appointment,” Greene said. “Due to strong partnerships with other vaccinating providers and increased vaccines coming to us, we have more capacity to offer vaccines for our teachers, school staff and childcare professionals next week.”
Greene said AppHealthCare is still prioritizing those in Phase 1 and Phase 2 — those 65 and older and those who work in health care or those working and residing in long-term resident homes.
“If you are in that group and would still like a vaccine, please let us know, and we will schedule you for an appointment,” Greene said. “We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding as we continue doing our best to get everyone vaccinated.”
Eliott said that because WCS is the third largest employer in Watauga County, getting WCS employees vaccination also has the effect of protection their families and the community.
“Taking care of our children and our teachers also adds a measure of protection to the older adults who care of our students and who live in homes with our employees,” Elliott said. “Protecting our employees goes a long way to protecting everyone.”
AppHealthCare keeps track of people who are eligible for the vaccine in Watauga County who have signed up for their interest list found at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-vaccine-data/.
Bracey said the numbers on the interest list will change as AppHealthCare spent the past week removing duplicates and working through the list of individuals who have received vaccines elsewhere.
“We recognize that we still have older adults in the community who may want a vaccine but are not on our list,” Bracey said. “We will be working to continue to prioritize them as we move forward.”
The interest form can be found at www.apphealthcare.com/covid-19-vaccinations/.
”Vaccines for teachers is one very important layer in our health and safety efforts, but we cannot let up on all the other things we have been doing,” Elliott said. “Two things in particular, diligent mask wearing and keeping sick children and staff at home, have done more than anything to prevent the spread of the virus in our schools. We are still in this for the long haul, but suddenly we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”