Local leaders, county frontline workers receiving COVID-19 vaccine

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Commission Chairman Harry Southerland, Commissioner James Leach, Hoke Sheriff Dr. Hubert Peterkin and some county Health Department staff have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with more county employees also eligible to receive it under the state’s revised vaccine distribution guidelines.

Southerland announced Monday night that he, Leach and Peterkin had received the Moderna vaccine, along with some Hoke Health Department workers and county staff members.

“I want to just give a shout-out to Helene Edwards, our Health Department director. She’s doing an outstanding job,” Southerland said.

The state shifted to a simplified vaccine distribution plan that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced December 30. The revised plan brings the state’s vaccine rollout in line with recently updated federal guidelines for the distribution. The state entered Phase 1B this week, allowing more people access to the vaccine.

Southerland clarified Tuesday that he and the other local elected officials fall under the Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution, as they are considered emergency preparedness personnel.

“It’s our job to keep the government open and working,” the chairman said.

There’s also another reason: the local officials wanted people to see them receiving the vaccine, Southerland added.

“We wanted to promote the safety of the vaccine. We want our citizens to know we took it and encourage other people to take it as well,” he said.

Peterkin expressed similar intentions in a post on his Facebook page. The sheriff posted photos of the three elected officials receiving the shot.

“Hello everyone today Emergency Preparedness Members (Sheriff Hubert Peterkin, Commissioner Chairman Harry Southerland, and Commissioner James Leach) stepped out on faith and received the Covid19 Vaccine,” he wrote. “We are encouraging everyone to believe in this. As First Responders, Emergency personnel, and citizens it is important that each of us protect our family friends and loved ones. The Corona Virus has claimed the lives of many and the number continues to rise. At this point we never know who may have the Virus. IT EFFECTS EVERYONE DIFFERENTLY!! Some people show little to no symptoms and are effecting others.”

“Taking the vaccine was simple, pain free and fast. Lets continue to be safe, be careful, and look out for others as we move forward. #GetTheShot,” the sheriff wrote.

Peterkin stated in comments that the sheriff’s office was in the process of scheduling its deputies and other staff to be able to receive the vaccine.

Commission Vice Chairman Allen Thomas also commented on social media about the elected officials receiving the vaccine. There had been some criticism about it, the vice chairman wrote.

“Three of our local elected officials received the COVID-19 vaccination and I’m a little surprised by the level of criticism that I am seeing. Surveys are saying that approximately 55% of people who qualify for the first round of vaccinations are choosing against getting it. We need our leaders to step up to the plate and show that it is safe,” Thomas wrote Tuesday. “Public buy-in is extremely important. Right now we are losing that battle and instead choosing to criticize those trying to help increase vaccine participation. I am a healthcare worker and I work on COVID units. I will get the vaccine as well.”

Others besides the elected officials were in the process of getting vaccinated against coronavirus. County Manager Letitia Edens thanked Edwards and her staff in comments during the manager’s report at the board meeting Monday.

“I want to say a lot of thanks to our Health Department, our health director Helene and all of her employees, because I think everyone knows that we have received the Moderna shot vaccine. Me and a lot of my directors, we had to give them all of our employees’ names because we got ranked in the 1A, 1B, 1C,” Edens said. “A lot of our essential workers that are doing the COVID shots in the health department…they’re actually doing the COVID testing for everyone in the county, they were able to get their Moderna shot, so I think that gave me some ease to know that our workers are now protected to a certain degree.”

Physicians and medical staff in the community are also receiving the first dose of the vaccine, along with some other county employees such as those who work in housekeeping, Edens said. People who are 75 years old or older are among the next group eligible for the vaccine under the new guidelines.

“For Hoke County that’s a good day for us that we’re doing that now and we have it in the community, and we can help stop that spread in Hoke County,” Edens said.

The Health Department is handling the process and using the federal guidelines to determine when to vaccinate each person based on the priority list.

“They’ve ranked them, they’ve done it based on what the CDC told us, how to rank them and how to give them that shot,” the county manager said.

There isn’t a timeline for how long it will take to administer a shot for everyone who wants the vaccine, which requires two doses 21 days apart. It will depend on how much of the vaccine the Health Department receives.

Hoke County is not requiring staff members to get the vaccine. It is optional, Edens said.

Some Hoke residents are receiving information from their insurance companies that they qualify to be in the early group of those vaccinated due to their age, she added. Those people could get the vaccine as early as Friday, depending on supplies.

“Some people are refusing the vaccine, so if they refuse it that will move other people up to go get it,” Edens said.

The governor announced on his Twitter account that the state is bringing in the National Guard to help assist with the vaccine distribution in North Carolina.

“Ensuring COVID-19 vaccines are administered quickly is our top priority right now. We will use all resources and personnel needed,” Cooper tweeted Tuesday. “I’ve mobilized the NC National Guard to provide support to local health providers as we continue to increase the pace of vaccinations.”

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