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Phone lines inundated, appointments filled as Southeastern North Carolina health departments begin Phase 1B of vaccine effort

Updated: Jan. 6, 2021 at 6:29 PM EST
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SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Cape Fear area health departments spent much of Wednesday fielding hundreds of calls from people seeking their spot in line for the coronavirus vaccine as North Carolina officially stepped into Phase 1B of its vaccination rollout.

The calls were so heavy that as New Hanover County tried to deal with them, the entire phone system was temporarily offline.

Assistant Health Director Carla Turner said they increased their call center staff from four to more than 20 people, but she said they know people still struggled to get through.

“They are answering those calls as quickly as they possibly can. So this is what I want to tell people ‘if you call and you get a busy signal, that’s because all 20 plus of those people are on the phone with somebody, and all the open lines in queue are full as well,’” Turner said.

“I know that’s frustrating. But that’s the process we have in place.”

If they get a busy signal, they can call back, but the county has already fully booked its vaccine appointments through Tuesday, Jan. 12.

A press release Wednesday afternoon said they will make more appointments available when they receive more doses from the state, but they don’t know how many there will be and when those doses will arrive.

“We can only do what we can do with the amount of vaccine that we have; we don’t get to choose how much we get,” Turner said.

Brunswick County also capped its vaccine run at 100.

In Pender County, Health Director Carolyn Moser said they too have been overrun with calls.

“The phone has been quite busy, it has been rolling to multiple lines; staff is doing the best that they can. It’s just that, you know, people are still gonna get a busy signal, voice message. All I can do is ask for them to be patient, to please continue to call,” Moser said, “and just realize that we are not going to move to another group to provide COVID vaccine to until we’re assured that everyone 75 and older, has had the opportunity to get the vaccine.”

Pender County administered 329 vaccines Tuesday, Moser said, and they believe they will be able to give up to 350 doses per clinic day.

Turner said New Hanover County can administer about 960 vaccines per day between their two locations, but with more than 17,000 residents who are 75 years old or older, they said it will take a while.

“We’re really just asking for everybody’s patience, knowing that that is a large segment of our community with some of the highest needs, so we’re going to work through them as quickly as possible, and supplies are allowed,” spokesperson Jessica Loeper said.

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