County on verge of inoculating key groups

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Harnett County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is on the verge of inoculating a key group of people.

Harnett County Emergency Director Larry Smith said he expected all of the county’s first responders, including fire, police and EMS, to be vaccinated for the coronavirus by the middle of next week. First responders and hospital workers made up a key group in the initial stages of the vaccine rollout.

“Our EMS folks are actually going out and doing inoculations for our first responders,” Smith told Harnett County commissioners during Tuesday morning’s monthly board meeting. “We’re getting about 30 a day. This is a travel road trip. We’re going to them so we don’t have to inconvenience them. We’re going to get probably another 40 done [Tuesday]. Our goal is by mid next week to have been able to have taken care of all of our first responders.”

The government implemented a phased approach to the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. Those facing the highest risk received the vaccine first, and agencies that demonstrated an effective approach to distribution got more over ones that did not. Harnett County started issuing the vaccine a few weeks ago through both the health department and area hospitals.

“We’ve put together a very good spreadsheet of those who wanted to receive the vaccine,” said Smith. “I’ve got a team that’s trained right now. My EMS supervisors have all been trained how to use the state software. That’s the piece that kind of slows things down a little bit.”

The next phase of distribution opened the vaccine up to people 75 and older. Once first responders are taken care of, Smith said his agency will continue working with the health department as it expands its efforts to reach as many people as possible.

“It’s really good to see the cooperation among the units of government within Harnett County to try to get the vaccine to where it needs to be,” County Manager Paula Stewart said. “It’s going to really help speed along the health departments moving into 1B.”

Harnett County Schools Superintendent Aaron Fleming, last week, pleaded with lawmakers to include teachers and education professionals in the next rollout phase. Smith and Stewart both said efforts are being made to make that happen.

“We’re working on it and I think they will come next, after the first responders,” Stewart said. “I think they are considered, in my opinion, I have not confirmed this with anyone yet, they should be a part of the 1B essential workers. They have to go to school, they have to do their job, so I think we’re trying to fit them in between 1B and 2.”

Discussions between the health department and school system are ongoing, as HCS determines how many doses of the vaccines it needs.

“We’re waiting on numbers back from the school system,” said Stewart. “We should be getting them [Wednesday]. We’re supposed to have their firm numbers on how many they need and how many people want to have the shot. It was offered to everyone, but everyone is not taking it.”

Commissioner Barbara McKoy stressed the importance of educating the public on the vaccine.

“People are still fearful of the shot,” McKoy said. “We need to get some education out into the community for people to know how effective the shot is and how safe it is. The community needs to hear that, not just elected officials. I’ve had my shot and haven’t had any reaction except a sore arm.”

Smith said the county vaccine rollout depends on knowing how many people want it.

“What has to happen in this process, we’re just not going out somewhere to give shots,” Smith said. “They have to let us know who wants it and those individuals have to be uploaded into a data system. They’ll receive an email, which is a checklist on if they can receive the shot because of health issues and things like that. Once that’s done we’re able to roster them up and actually go out and physically give the shots.

“When they start looking at the schools and all that, we’re going to continue to be part of that team to help [Health Director John Rouse] as we go through this so we wan make sure we have plenty of resources to knock this out as quickly as we possibly can.”

Chairman W. Brooks Matthews asked when the rollout will move to people 50 and older. Stewart said a lot of how quickly the county moves into different phases depends on the number of shipments it receives.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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