’We’ve all been waiting for this time to come’: Cape Fear area hospitals prepare for roll out of COVID vaccine

Healthcare workers receive first vaccines today

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - While they aren’t dropping their guard, staff members at Novant Health’s Brunswick Medical Center are feeling hopeful as they wait for the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to arrive.

“Our health care workers have been hard at this almost 10 months now, at the bedside, worried that they may catch it...take it home to their family,” said Shelbourn Stevens, the hospital’s president and chief operating officer. “We’ve all been waiting for this time to come for something to get us a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Pfizer version of the vaccine, approved by the FDA and CDC over the weekend, began arriving at North Carolina’s 11 early shipment sites on Sunday and Monday. While Novant wasn’t on that early shipment list, they are still expected to get their first doses within the next 24 to 48 hours.

In the meantime, Stevens said they’ve been preparing as best they can for the roll out.

“We’re going through steps now, where we’re on prioritizing our front-line patient facing team members,” he said. “We were doing a dry run this morning of what the flow would look like. So, we’re looking forward to getting the vaccine on-site and beginning that process.”

Like all medical facilities receiving the first shipment of vaccine, Brunswick Medical Center and New Hanover Regional Medical Center—which also expects its doses to arrive in the next day or two—will prioritize staff who are most at risk of being exposed to the virus.

However, they will be staggering the roll out of doses in order to avoid entire shifts needing to take a day off to deal with any potential side effects.

Those side effects can include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches or even a low-grade fever—all similar to what happens when humans receive other vaccines as their bodies experience an immune system response.

What’s different, though, is the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna version up for approval later this week, don’t contain any actual virus.

This fact, Stevens said, should give the public comfort in knowing front-line workers are not being exposed through vaccination, a common concern WECT has heard from readers and viewers.

“The vaccines do not have the live virus in it...so it can’t give them COVID-19,” he said.

Needles have already started going into arms across the Carolinas, with Atrium Health announcing it gave the first dose in the state Monday morning.

Even though the vaccine roll out is a ray of light, Stevens and those at NHRMC and the state health department urge the public not to relent on other precautionary measures, as it will take months for the vaccine to make a difference.

“You can’t let your guard down. Even though you get the vaccine, don’t let your guard down,” Steven said. “We still have to mask, social distance and really protect ourselves in the winter months because we still have flu that’s here as well. And some of those symptoms match up to COVID-19. So we really just have to stay super vigilant with our practices.”

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