In a spacious room in the back of Robbins Medical Park, medical staff for Caldwell UNC Health Care are in a race against time.
Across the street at Caldwell Memorial Hospital and a Samaritan’s Purse field hospital, dozens of patients are being treated for COVID-19. Case numbers countywide have been high and continue to rise — 340 cases were reported Monday through Thursday.
But at Robbins Medical Park, where Caldwell UNC Health Care’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic is, the people coming in are presumably well — and they are there because they want to stay that way.
The atmosphere in the clinic is fast-paced and optimistic. People who have doctors in Caldwell UNC Health Care’s network can be vaccinated there. When they arrive, they are briskly funneled inside, their temperature is taken and their information is entered into a federal vaccine management system, which helps Caldwell UNC Health Care account for every vaccination given.
The room they enter next is divided in two. On one side sit tables where people sit, sleeves rolled back, to receive a quick injection of the Pfizer vaccine. Then they cross to the other side of the room and sit in a chair for 15 minutes, waiting in case they have an adverse reaction to the vaccine.
So far, nobody has had an adverse reaction at Caldwell UNC’s clinic, said Laura Easton, the CEO of Caldwell UNC Health Care.
By Friday morning, Caldwell UNC Health Care staff had performed 2,163 vaccinations, and all of the eligible health care workers who received the first shot now have had the second.
“It is an absolute race against time,” Easton said. “We have already experienced with some of our employees who got the first dose and got COVID in between the time of the first and the second dose.”
The vaccine is 50% effective against the virus after just one dose, Easton said, while that rises to 95% effective after two doses.
“So we feel like we can’t get there fast enough,” she said.
Still, Shelly Miller, a nurse practitioner who has been administering the vaccines, said she feels “pretty hopeful.”
“It feels really good, because it feels like you’re doing something productive, … preventative,” she said.
She said people who come in are “so excited, and I can’t tell you how many of them tell us how much they appreciate us doing this and how grateful they are to be able to be getting it.”
“I had one man tell me this morning, … ‘This is the first time I’ve gotten here early to get a vaccine.’ Because he was like, probably 15 or 20 minutes early,” she said.
In some cases, Miller has vaccinated some of her own patients from RiverCrest Medical Park, where she usually works.
“I like it, because I’ve been doing family practice for about 10 or 11 years now, and I have such a relationship with my patients anyway. It feels good to be able to offer them this piece of the COVID puzzle too.”
Caldwell UNC Health Care had been vaccinating people 75 and older, and on Thursday state officials expanded the guidelines so anyone 65 and older can be included in the current vaccination phase, Easton said.
Staff met Thursday evening and adjusted their plans, and then they began scheduling patients 65 and older to receive the vaccine next week, Easton said.
They had planned to begin vaccinating essential workers over the age of 50 on Jan. 20, but the change in the guidelines has forced them to reassess those plans, and they are waiting on more guidance from the state as they decide how to proceed, Easton said.
Betty Buss was one of the people who received the vaccine from Caldwell UNC Health Care on Friday. The pandemic, she said, has been isolating for her.
“I just have to stay home all the time,” she said. “I live alone. It’s scary, but I have tried to obey all of the rules.”
She said that her children have been asking her to get the vaccine, and she was relieved to finally receive the first dose.
“I do miss being with my children,” she said. “I don’t see them very often.”
Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.