Vaccines await arms at the Hyde County Health Department in Swan Quarter. Photo: C. Leinbach

Hyde County Health Department on Wednesday (March 10) sent out an emergency message saying any Hyde County citizen interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of which group you fall into, should call the Hyde County Health Department at 252-926-4467 to register.

By Connie Leinbach

Ocracoke is set to receive more Moderna vaccines today to inoculate islanders against the COVID-19 virus.

Mandy Cochran, the RN at the Ocracoke Health Center who’s in charge of organizing the vaccine program, has a juggling act each week doling out the vaccines.

Interrupted ferry service on the Pamlico Sound routes due to low water near Big Foot Slough has added to the scheduling difficulties.

“With the ferries, we don’t schedule (inoculations) until we have (the vaccines),” she said. Once the health center receives its allocation, the scramble begins to get them into peoples’ arms since it has five days to use them “or we jeopardize our allocation,” Cochran said.

As of today (March 9), the health center has administered 550 doses, she said, with most of them first doses.

Second doses are paired with the first doses, Cochran said. So, those who’ve had a first dose will be scheduled for their second shot 28 days later. The second dose needs to be administered on the day the person is scheduled for it, she said, and four days beyond the appointed date is the outer limit.

The health center didn’t receive any vaccines for the first three weeks of February owing to severe weather across the country, Cochran said.

The Ocracoke Health Center on Back Road is not doing in-person appointments. Photo: C. Leinbach

Fortunately, COVID-19 numbers in North Carolina and across the nation have been declining.

According to Hyde County Health Department’s report of Friday (March 5), the county has two active cases. Out of a total of 641 cases, 631 are recovered yet there have been eight deaths owing to the virus.

The Hyde number differs from that on the NC Department of Health & Human Services COVID-19 dashboard, which as of Monday says there are 94 cases on Ocracoke within the last 14 days.

Vaccine distribution is prioritized according to five phases. Currently, North Carolina is in Phase 3 for Frontline Essential Workers, mostly childcare and PreK-12 school workers.

Group 4 vaccinations for people at higher risk from COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions will become eligible to receive a vaccine, as well as people in certain congregate-living settings, starting March 24. 

Vaccines safe
Cochran stressed that the vaccines are safe even though the time to develop them was relatively short in the history of vaccine making.

That’s because the scientific community had already had a foundation from having worked on other coronaviruses starting with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a viral respiratory disease caused by a SARS-associated coronavirus, first identified in 2003.

“It’s not like they just started (research) up,” she said about COVID-19. “Coronaviruses have been around. We’ve been able to build upon this. They stopped working on other viruses to work on this one.”

COVID-19 rampaging through the world is new to the group of viruses in the coronavirus group, she said.

The speed with creating this vaccine was also because certain groups, such as children under 18, were excluded from the trials, she said.

Moreover, the vaccine is not a “live” virus, as some vaccines are, she said.

“You’re only getting a piece of it,” she said.

She likened the two-dose process to a military campaign.

“The first dose is like showing the uniform of the invader to a group of soldiers so they know what the enemy looks like,” she said.

Then the second dose ramps up the defenses.

And everyone’s response is different, she said. Some people get a mild reaction; some not so mild, but the vaccine will not give you COVID-19.

Although the vaccines are not 100% effective, all COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States have been shown to be highly effective at preventing COVID-19, and experts believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine may also help keep you from getting seriously ill if you do get it, according to the CDC website.

The consensus among public health officials and infectious disease experts is that vaccination is the best chance we have to end the pandemic and return to something resembling normal life. But its success depends on the willingness of eligible individuals to be vaccinated.

Cochran said islanders wanting vaccinations can register online or in-person—outside—at the health center.

On MSNBC last night, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky talked about the race to get as many vaccinated as possible to prevent the virus from mutating thus rendering the current vaccines ineffective.

While cases are declining, the pandemic is still raging.

Anyone who is having COVID-19 symptoms is urged to go to the Ocracoke Health Center and get tested. The health center has both tests, Cochran said.

Walensky and state officials continue to caution that the recent improvement in COVID-19 metrics in the state can be “fragile” and that the “Three Ws” are still imperative: Wear a face covering; Wait six feet apart; and Wash your hands frequently.

These measures have also helped prevent a host of flu cases here, Cochran said.

“Masks work,” she said.

Flu shots are available until April, she said.

The Ocracoke Health Center has a special number, 252-489-3622, for COVID testing or prescription refill requests only.

Islanders can also travel to the mainland and get vaccinated at the Hyde County Health Department. To get on the vaccination list, call 252-926-4467.

Previous articleStay tuned to Twitter for Pamlico Sound ferry run cancellations
Next articleCitizen science program needs volunteers to observe the weather