By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Dr. Roxie Wells, president of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital, was among the first people in the state Tuesday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The federal Food and Drug Administration last week authorized emergency use of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, approving it for people age 16 and older. A first shipment of 5,000 doses of the vaccine was delivered Tuesday to three of Cape Fear Valley’s hospitals, including the one in Hoke County. The vaccine requires two doses given 21 days apart to be effective, meaning the hospital system received enough to fully vaccinate 2,500 people.
Wells joined Cape Fear Valley Health Chief Executive Officer Mike Nagowski, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Samuel Fleishman, and Chief of Emergency Services and Associate Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Zappa in getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Front line workers in the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center’s emergency department and COVID inpatient unit were also among the first people in North Carolina vaccinated against coronavirus.
Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital was one of the first 11 hospitals in the state chosen to receive the vaccine. The hospital was selected because of Cape Fear Valley Health’s participation in clinical trials that helped bring the first COVID-19 vaccines to market, according to Lindsay Graham, marketing coordinator for Cape Fear Valley.
“This means Hoke County will get a head start on fighting COVID-19 and the vaccine will help slow the spread of the virus in this area,” Graham wrote in an email Monday. “Our health care workers getting vaccinated is just another way we can protect our patients and be there for our patients when they need us. We’ll still be following strict protocols of wearing PPE, regardless of whether a team member has been vaccinated or not.”
Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital, Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville and Bladen County Hospital all received some of the limited supply of vaccine. Cape Fear Valley Health plans to offer the vaccine to all its employees, although it is not mandatory for them, officials said.
Cape Fear Valley Hoke Hospital had the foresight to purchase ultra cold freezers over the summer, making it possible for the local hospital to store the Pfizer vaccine, Graham said. That decision could also mean that Hoke residents might get earlier access to the COVID-19 vaccine, once enough doses are available to begin offering it to the public.
“Being one of the first hospitals to receive the vaccine will mean that it’s likely the public will have vaccines available to be administered sooner. Hoke Hospital will receive weekly shipments after the initial delivery,” Graham said in an email.
More doses of the vaccine are on the way for other hospital systems. FirstHealth of the Carolinas’ main hospital, Moore Regional in Pinehurst, is among the 42 hospitals across the state anticipating a shipment of the vaccine later this week.
FirstHealth expects to receive 1,950 doses at Moore Regional, according to Wes Cowell, the administrative director of pharmacy and respiratory care at that facility. FirstHealth’s Hoke hospital staff will be able to get the vaccine shortly after healthcare workers at the Pinehurst hospital, officials said.
“Depending on the state’s allocations plans for the refrigerated vaccine product from Moderna, which we hope to learn early this week, we may or may not transfer the Pfizer product to our other hospital locations based on stability and transportation requirements,” Cowell said in a statement. “Regardless of whether MRH-Hoke receives transferred product from Pinehurst or a direct allocation of the Moderna vaccine, we expect them to be ready to administer shortly after the Pinehurst campus.”
Under the state’s proposed distribution plan, after hospital workers are vaccinated, residents and staff in nursing homes will be next in line to receive the shots. The federal government is contracting with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to vaccinate care facility residents and employees.
It could still be months before members of the public are able to get the vaccine, and the FDA has not yet authorized any COVID-19 vaccine for use in children under 16 years old
Right now it’s still important for people to continue to practice social distancing and other safety measures, health officials said. In counties such as Hoke, which has been in “critical” status for the last month due to its rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, it’s also recommended for people to avoid gatherings and only go out in public for the essentials.
As of Tuesday, Hoke County was up to 2,359 total known cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, including 208 new cases over the last seven days. So far 34 people in Hoke, and more than 300,000 people across the United States have died of COVID-19 related causes. More than 2,000 people in Hoke who tested positive for the virus are considered recovered from it.
Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards said Monday that the department is still in meetings with state and federal health agencies on vaccine protocol and guidance, preparing for the eventual widespread vaccine distribution.
“The Hoke County Health Department is registered with the CDC to vaccinate when the time is right,” she wrote in an email. “The CDC is leading the vaccination distribution and schedule; therefore, the individual states are providing the protocol to be followed.”
“This is a start, but things are constantly changing right now,” Edwards said.
North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen urged residents to continue to wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash hands frequently. The vaccine won’t immediately make an impact on the state’s ongoing spike in cases, she said in a live-streamed press conference Tuesday.
North Carolina is in the middle of a “staggering” increase in the number of cases that is starting to put a strain on hospital resources, Cohen said. As of Tuesday there were more than 2,500 people in hospitals across the state with COVID-19, including over 600 people who are in intensive care units.
“We have so much work to do right now to protect each other,” Cohen said.