Inside the Hyde County Health Department on Main Street, Swan Quarter, Misty Gibbs, right, and Jessica Gibbs, look to see who’s next on the list for a COVID-19 vaccine. Photo: C. Leinbach

Clarification Feb. 12, 2021, 9:55 a.m.: The Ocracoke Health Center explained that the COVID-19 first and second vaccines are paired so that those who’ve received the first dose will get the second dose when it’s time. More first-round doses are possibly two weeks away. Also, the Hyde County Health Department COVID immunization number is updated. Story below is revised to reflect these clarifications.

By Connie Leinbach

Every day, Misty Gibbs has to work on COVID math.

Gibbs, who is the emergency preparedness coordinator for the Hyde County Health Department, organizes the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Hyde County receives 100 Moderna vaccines each week and Gibbs calculates how many doses they will administer each day and whether it’s the first or second dose.

“They require us to use all of the vaccines each week,” she said in an interview Wednesday in their Swan Quarter office, and once the vials are open, the doses must be administered within six hours.

The Health Department office at 1151 Main St. buzzes with activity as residents come in for their shots. Gibbs is assisted by a nurse on loan from the state Emergency Services Department and Jessica Gibbs (no relation), on loan from the Hyde County Senior Center.

If someone can’t make it, Gibbs looks down the list and calls people to come in.

Sandra and Dick Tunnell of Swan Quarter wait for 15 minutes after having received their second COVID-19 vaccination. Photo: C. Leinbach

“We have it very strategically planned,” she said about the vaccine rollout, which is by appointment only.

Concurrently, the state on Wednesday said Group 3 frontline workers will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 24.

Because vaccine supply continues to be limited and the Group 3 population of frontline essential workers is so large, the state will move to the next group gradually, Gov. Roy Cooper’s office said in a press release.

Those working in childcare and schools, such as teachers, bus and van drivers, custodial and maintenance staff, and food service workers, will be eligible first.

Gibbs said the Health Department is working on pre-planning for Group 3, which can receive the vaccine on March 10. Frontline workers are everyone who physically has to go to work, including first responders, agricultural workers, restaurant employees and grocery store workers.

She said the Hyde County Cooperative Extension office is building lists of workers in agriculture businesses, including aquaculture businesses, to determine the total number of workers so that they can make a plan.

Owners of agriculture businesses should contact the Hyde County Extension office at 252-926-4486 for details.

Gibbs said the health department administers 40 to 50 shots per day and has given about 900 vaccines since they became available.

Fortunately, she said, no one has had an adverse reaction. Those getting shots are required to wait in the building for at least 15 minutes before leaving. To get on the Hyde County Health Department list, call 252-926-4467.

A number of Ocracoke residents have gone over to the mainland for their shots, and they’ve shown their gratitude by bringing gifts: pound cake and even jewelry, Gibbs said, sporting a necklace with a horse and a hypodermic needle.

“It’s for herd immunity,” she said.

Mandy Cochran, a registered nurse in the Ocracoke Health Center, said today that they don’t expect more vaccines for another two weeks.

Although the state distributes weekly to county health departments around the state, the Ocracoke Health Center, which is a private nonprofit, gets its own supply.

However, early in the distribution, Hyde County received 200 doses and sent 100 to Ocracoke, Gibbs said. After that, the island health center got another 100 vaccines, Cochran said.

“But we don’t know when we’ll get more of the first-round doses,” she said.

Dana Lynch, a state nurse-consultant, has been deployed to the Hyde County Health Department for two weeks to give shots. Photo: C. Leinbach

It’s not that the island health center is slack.

“We just don’t have vaccine,” said Jamie Tunnell Carter, a spokesperson for the center. “Hospitals have thousands (needing the vaccine) and are only getting 100 at a time, too.”

The federal government sends vaccines to the states and the states look at their counties and allocate accordingly, Gibbs said.

“None of us gets a say-so,” she said.

Because the vaccine is a federal program, the only residency requirement is in the United States, Cochran said. Their guidance says the vaccine cannot be restricted based on county or state of residency.

So, the Ocracoke and Engelhard Health Centers have received registrations from other counties and states.

Cochran said the Ocracoke office has had 1,479 registrations for vaccines, which includes people from at least 10 different states, several neighboring counties and three foreign countries.

“In Engelhard, three out of 100 (people vaccinated) were actual Hyde County residents,” Carter said.

Centers just aren’t getting all the vaccines they want, Cochran said.

“If you want the vaccine sooner rather than later you should go to the Hyde County Health Department to get it,” she said. Islanders have been getting second doses, she said, and explained that the first and second doses are paired to the place where people have gotten their first dose.

“The state sends the second dose when it’s time to receive it,” she said.

Nationwide, vaccine distribution is uneven.

“Vaccine supply limitations continue to impact how fast we can get all North Carolinians vaccinated,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the Department of Health & Human Services, said in the press release.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by this devastating pandemic, and the state is working to reduce the high rates of sickness this population is experiencing,” Cooper noted. Among the strategies the state is implementing are requiring all vaccine providers to collect race and ethnicity data.

The state is also prioritizing a portion of its weekly vaccines to events that focus on underserved communities and allocating a baseline weekly amount of vaccine based on county population to ensure geographic equity with vaccine available in all 100 counties.

Gibbs said she was pleasantly surprised at the number of people in the county wanting the vaccine but noted that she’d like to see more in the minority populations.

“We need more Hispanics in the 65 and over age group to come in,” she said.

Charles Evans, president of the North Carolina Association of Black County Officials and chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, on Wednesday said, “Some Black and Brown citizens may mistrust the vaccine, and I understand why based on longstanding and continuing racial and ethnic injustices in our health care system. I trust the vaccines because they have been tested. They are safe and effective. If we are going to gain control of our lives, we need to get vaccinated.” 

The press release said the state has seen a 65% increase in the weekly number of first doses administered to the African American population over the past four weeks. The week of Feb. 3, data shows 18% of the vaccines administered in the state have gone to the Black/African American population, up from 11 percent the week of Jan. 13.

African Americans make up 22% of North Carolina’s population.

A ‘herd immunity’ necklace made by an Ocracoke resident and given to Misty Gibbs. Photo: C. Leinbach

In the Latina/Hispanic community, rates have stayed around two percent of vaccines administered in the state, the press release said.

AMEXCAN in Greenville can help Hispanics with COVID-19 and other issues by calling 252-367-8779.

NCDHHS also expanded its COVID-19 vaccine help center to answer people’s questions and help them determine when they are eligible for a vaccine.

The hotline, 888-675-4567, is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Callers can get help with general COVID-19 vaccine questions, information on eligibility groups, clinical questions about the vaccine, and how to find vaccine locations and transportation services.

As for the latest COVID-19 cases in Hyde County, the health department reported on Feb. 5 that the total number of cases is 620 with 22 of those active. There have been 590 recoveries and eight deaths.

By contrast, there were 118 active positive cases in the county as of Dec. 31.

The Hyde County Health Department along Main Street in Swan Quarter. Photo: C. Leinbach