CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Private healthcare systems have begun offering their eligible patients the coronavirus vaccine as Mecklenburg County's public distribution appointments book up for January. Atrium and Novant Health will offer the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine to their patients.
In many counties in North Carolina, patients who qualify for Phase 1B Group 1 (those over the age of 75-years-old regardless of health history or employment) are eligible to reserve the vaccine. In Mecklenburg County, those vaccines are being administered by appointment-only but other counties could elect to operate on first-come, first-serve systems.
When reservations first opened Tuesday for approximately 5,000 appointments administered by the Mecklenburg County Health Department in January, available times booked up quickly as both the website and phone system struggled to handle the volume of inquiries.
The availability of appointments through private healthcare systems like Atrium and Novant introduces a new avenue for those seeking the vaccine.
Vaccinations for the first group of people in the general population began in Mecklenburg County on Wednesday.
The vaccination clinic at Bojangles Coliseum opened to people who fall into phase 1B group 1, people 75 and older.
Novant Health did a test run with patients on Tuesday and is contacting people to schedule appointments.
After issues getting an appointment through the county, the clinic seemed to run smoothly on Wednesday. People who were vaccinated relieved to be partially protected from the virus.
"I was really looking forward to it and very happy when I was able to get the appointment,” said Mary Falkenstein.
This pandemic has been especially tough on older people who have been most at risk and isolated from friends at family.
So many people here today excited and relieved to be vaccinated.
“It’s been lonely. I've been in the house basically all this time,” said Eloise Toler.
This seen as many as the beginning of the end.
“Somehow we've got to get this under control, it really needs to be done and I was just fortunate to be one of the first ones,” said Fran Telfer.
Many of the people who snagged the first vaccination appointments through the Mecklenburg County Health Department were pleased to find getting the shot itself was quick and easy.
“It was excellent. There was no problem at all, it was very quick they give you the shot you go sit down for 15 minutes and you leave,” said John Dragonetti.
For many, the decision to get vaccinated was a simple one.
“There’s no choice," said Patti Dragonetti. "If I want to continue and I want to enjoy the rest of my life, this is the way it is. And I am fine! And it is a relief. It is such a gut relief it is wonderful."
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When appointments opened up, the county's system was almost immediately overwhelmed. Many of the people who had appointments on the first day enlisting help from family members to make an appointment online.
"We wanted to be able to feel like she’s protected in some way," said Talia Wucherer, whose mother was vaccinated. "We understand the vaccine does not mean we're not going to be able to wear masks and go back to life as usual but just knowing there’s some level of protection we feel more comfortable having her come over."
Time slots for the entire month of January are booked through the health department.
Novant Health vaccinated a few people Tuesday and is notifying patients with more information on how to schedule an appointment through MyChart. They've set up a hotline to help with scheduling. People needing assistance can call 855-NH-VAC-4U (855-648-2248).
Before the sun even came up Wednesday morning, at Atrium Health in Charlotte, people didn't even get out of their cars to roll up their sleeves.
"I’m excited. I want things to get back to normal. I don’t want every time I turn on the news channel to watch the weather hearing how many people have died,” said one of the women vaccinated.
When scheduling through Atrium, the second appointment is automatically set.
"For me, just having something to actually positively look at to say hey, we're getting close to getting to the end of this thing, this is absolutely the thing that’s going to get us through this pandemic,” said Dr. Gary Little with Atrium Health.
For the county, appointments can be booked on mecknc.gov/COVID-19. Phone appointments may be made by calling 980-314-9400 and selecting Option 3 beginning at 8 a.m. If you leave a message, they will attempt to return your call within 24-48 business hours.
Novant Health says they are notifying eligible patients through their MyChart account. Those patients will be prompted to schedule an appointment. Those who do not have access to MyChart, who did not receive the notification, or have additional questions, may call 855-648-2248 for scheduling assistance.
Atrium Health appointments can be booked online through MyAtriumHealth
Mecklenburg County Public Health issued a statement Tuesday asking for the public's patience in scheduling an appointment.
When appointments are available, you can try booking a coronavirus vaccine appointment with Mecklenburg County online or by calling 980-314-9400 .
“We know that when you open up something to 20,000 people in the community and many of them call at one time, that things could potentially go wrong,” said Gibbie Harris, Mecklenburg County Health Director.
“Once we have a better feel as we move into the month with the amount of vaccine that we're going to have available to us then we can open up additional appointments,” said Harris.
These appointments are in high demand, but there is a short supply of them. It all depends on the amount of vaccine the county receives from the state.
"We want to be able to go places and have people come in and we've just hesitated to do that until we get the shot," said Betty Tomlinson. She struggled to get through to make an appointment with the county before giving up.
"I do pretty much a lot of work on the iPad so I am familiar with going back and forth but this thing about trying to get the health department, it's just been very frustrating. In fact, my friend had to leave the room because I was getting so frustrated," she said.
In December, the county updated its vaccination plan to align with new federal and state recommendations (as recommended by current guidelines). Because vaccine supplies are currently limited, the vaccine distribution is being rolled out in phases.
During Phase 1a, the vaccine was made available to healthcare workers caring for and working directly with patients with COVID-19 and those giving vaccines.
In Phase 1b, the vaccine will be made available first to Group 1 adults 75 years or older regardless of medical condition or living situation. This marks the first time any member of the general public could be vaccinated.
Everyone receiving the coronavirus vaccine will need to receive two shots several weeks apart. Mecklenburg County is administering its share of the vaccine at Bojangles' Coliseum.
To access parking for the COVID-19 Vaccination site at the Bojangles' Coliseum, please use the entrance on Briar Creek Road. Briar Creek Road is exit 244 on East Independence Blvd. For close parking, please use sections 10-15 in the parking lot.
Instructions regarding the second dose appointment will be provided following your appointment for your first dose.
As more vaccines become available, guidance for the following Phase 1B groups will be released:
- Group 2: Health care and frontline essential workers who are 50 years of age or older.
- Group 3: Frontline workers of any age and health care workers of any age, regardless of whether they work directly with COVID-19 patients.