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'We can stand on our head and jump up and down' but not change vax supply

Pharmaceutical companies are making as many vials of Covid-19 vaccines as they can make, Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt told elected commissioners at the top of a vaccine update. The federal government determines dose allocations to the states. The governor's office determines dose allocations to 100 counties. The gulf between supply and demand is vast; the pace of shots in arms is maddenly slow. Yet, the county's ability to control either, the manager said, is limited.

"We can stand on our head, we can jump up and down," Wyatt said. "But we're responsible for doing what we can do with the allocation that we get." He met with state Sen. Chuck Edwards on Friday. "The legislators are doing everything they can to push as much vaccine capacity out as possible. But again, this is a supply chain.

"I accept full responsibility for our shortcomings. But each county in North Carolina has been dealt a hand of logistical issues that is unlike anything I have seen in decades. These folks are doing fantastic work in putting in tremendous effort. I do not like to see them get beat up when they're working, I know, seven days a week."

Figures updated Tuesday showed that 13,975 people in the county had received the first dose of the vaccine, 6,667 had received their second dose and 17,698 remained on the waitlist for a shot.

Steve Smith, the county's public health director, shared the bad news that the vaccination shipments for this week have been disrupted by the massive winter storm draping the Southwest and Northeast. "We don't expect any vaccine shipments in the coming days," he said.

"It's going to get a little icy," Emergency Services Director Jimmy Brissie said. "We are looking at having some delays tomorrow to make sure folks can safely get to the clinics. It's very tricky, especially for folks getting their second dose. They need to get that second dose within a certain window so we want to protect that as much as possible."

Smith updated commissioners on a holiday surge of cases and hospitalizations, the recent drop in case counts and the vaccination process.

"You can see how precipitously we have dropped off in cases per 100,000, " Smith said as he narrated slides. "We're really pleased with that trend." The Thanksgiving-through-New Year's surge started in the Pacific Northwest and rolled east, "so that rebound effect is happening in the very same way," he said. "It's fascinating to watch that."

Commissioner Rebecca McCall asked how medical providers were preparing to vaccinate schoolteachers, which join the large group of eligible North Carolinians a week from today.

"It's an incredibly difficult situation with thousands more being made eligible with no change in vaccine supplies," he said.

Pardee UNC Health has been aggressive in planning for those vaccines.

"They have started really early discussions with the public school system," he said. "In the beginning, they were certainly the dominant recipient of vaccine supply in Henderson County" and they developed plans early on to vaccinate teachers. "Now with this announcement by the governor, I do believe they are proceeding with that plan to be prepared to incrementally start vaccinating some of the school staff." Schools Superintendent John Bryant "has been very thoughtful in kind of tiering out those teachers that may be highest risk first. And I think Pardee is also soliciting additional vaccine supplies to cover some of that extra demand."

The health department, meanwhile, is moving forward with plans to vaccinate schoolteachers and caregivers at private and charter schools and daycare centers, Smith said.