HIGH POINT, N.C. — The vaccine rollout is continuing to hit major milestones. President Biden announced everyone 16 and older is now eligible to get a COVID 19 vaccine, ahead of the initial goal of May 1.
North Carolina and certain counties in the Piedmont Triad had eased those eligibility requirements even sooner.
The State Department of Health and Human Services is reporting more than 3.6 million people have had at least the first dose of the COVID 19 vaccine which is about a third of the eligible population.
FOX8’s Lindsay Tuman has been checking in with several Cone Health doctors and nurses about their experiences through the vaccine rollout.
They were among the first in the Piedmont Triad to get their COVID 19 vaccines. Since those first shots in December, and the boosters in January, they have not reported any issues.
“I’ve felt fine. I haven’t had any symptoms at all that I think are related to the vaccine,” Dr. Brent McQuaid, a Pulmonary Critical Care physician said.
“I haven’t had any side effects or symptoms, no issues at all. I think similarly to many people, more environmental pollen issues than any issues related to the vaccine,” registered nurse Ann Councilman said.
“Good, now that it’s over, and I got the shot. I’m always nervous about something new. Second dose was not as fun as the first, but other than that, no complications,” critical care nurse Tracie Neilson said.
“I have felt great. In fact, I made a small trip to India to get my parents vaccinated so you can see that I was pretty confident in my vaccination, and almost two months afterwards, I thought I had enough immunity,” Dr. Jayashree Ravishankar said. She is an infectious disease specialist at Alamance Regional Medical Center.
They say in these last few months, they have felt more protected and more relieved at the improving COVID 19 metrics.
Dr. Brent McQuaid was the chief medical officer at Cone Health’s Green Valley Campus. The health care system was able to close the facility at the end of February after seeing significant progress in COVID 19 hospitalizations.
“It’s really reassuring as a physician to know that we’re starting to get closer to normal, and we can start to get back to restore regular activities on a day-to-day basis. And to know that our resources aren’t going to be stretched. You know we’re going to do the job regardless, but it was quite stressful when the possibility of running out of resources was looming. And so it’s really wonderful that we don’t have to worry about that right now,” he said.
The campus is still open for COVID 19 testing and a monoclonal antibody infusion clinic. Ann Councilman is the executive director at the campus. She says the progress has been surprising.
“I think this has been unprecedented times through all of it. So I’m not sure if you had asked me in December would we have closed in March, I don’t know what I would have said. I probably would have said no,” she said.
They say while the vaccines are helping, they are still getting questions about the vaccine, especially as some of the first to have been vaccinated.
“I think everyone who’s been vaccinated is that example for other people to look at. Are there side effects? Yes, there are side effects. Did I experience what I would say are grave side effects? No, I didn’t experience any grave side effects. Would I do it again? Absolutely I would do it again,” Councilman said.
“It’s kind of with humility that everyone is kind of concerned about a new vaccine and do this mass vaccination everybody taking it. But we kind of thought it was good because the sciences was there; it was backing us. And we knew the science was there,” Dr. Ravishankar said.
Even though more people are able to sign up for appointments, they are not filling up as quickly as providers saw in the first few months of the vaccine rollout.
State and local health leaders say part of the reason for the change is because vaccines are more readily available, and people are able to turn to more providers to find a date and time that fits with their schedule. But there’s also been some concerns about vaccine hesitancy.
“I think all along we’ve had some degree of hesitancy in the community, and truly I still have the same belief that it really is each person’s choice. They have to really look at the data and make a decision based on what they believe in and what their choice is, and they have to do decide whether to move forward to vaccinate or not to vaccinate,” Councilman said.
“Yeah I can understand the hesitancy still. I still understand the skepticism of the Black and brown communities with government. But if you love your loved ones, then you need to get it. And you are at the higher risk,” Neilson said.
Dr. Ravishankar says it’s also important people continue to get vaccinated to help fight against COVID-19 variants.
“It is just a race against the variants with the people who get vaccinated. In Michigan right now the variants are the predominant infections there. You know the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine have very good efficacy against the vaccine, especially the British variant,” she said. “That’s why we are asking people to please go ahead and still get vaccinated because you still will have a lot of protection against the variants. And as soon as we go ahead and get vaccinated we have less chance of getting further variants.”
They say the science is there, proving the vaccines are safe and effective and are necessary to protect the community.
“It’s important to note that the vast majority of patients by and large, nearly everyone who gets these has very minimal side effects, and the benefit we get as a society from this, not having to deal with constantly rising numbers, society not getting shut down, all the economic downturn that comes with that, it’s worth it for us as individuals to love our neighbors and go out and get a vaccine,” Dr. McQuaid said.
“What I want people to know is the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been paused, but that should not deter us or stop us from using the other two vaccines, because there’s enough data to show the vaccine is safe, it will protect us, and it will give good protect us from reinfection,” Dr. Ravishankar said.
“People really need to just get it. It’s a life-or-death thing and you are at the highest risk of being the patient, so you outweigh that and outweigh the fact that if you get COVID, one of the highest risk factors is you could die,” Neilson said.
“And I would just encourage people to ask those questions to people who have been vaccinated that they know are meaningful to them and make that decision whether they want to get vaccinated or not get vaccinated,” Councilman said.
If you want to make a vaccine appointment through Cone Health, you can sign up on the Cone Health website.
The health care provider is also allowing walk-ins to its four clinic locations at North Carolina A&T State University, the Greensboro Coliseum, the location behind the JR Cigar Outlet and Rockingham Community College. You should get there two hours before the clinic closes if you do not have an appointment.