Chapel Hill resident Betty Sonner, 96, received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 2. After months of self-isolation and fear, Sonner said she finally is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The North Carolina vaccination process kicked off in December, allowing Orange County residents to begin receiving doses.
Though currently restricted to the top priority groups, which include health care workers, long-term care residents and people over the age of 65, the vaccine has already been administered to over a million state residents.
Despite the progress, the county is still many doses away from returning to life pre-COVID-19. As a result, those in Orange County who have been vaccinated are continuing to take the necessary precautions to avoid exposure. Sonner said she still plans to continue to abide by government COVID-19 regulations and avoid exposure.
“I think that because there’s so much going on right now, I don’t think we’re going to do any major changes in our lifestyle until things calm down and more shots are given out," Sonner said. "We’re gonna wear our mask all the time and just be very careful distancing.”
As a professor at Duke University over the age of 65, Gerry Cohen received his first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 25 through Duke Hospitals.
Though he has begun the vaccination process, Cohen plans to continue to listen to COVID-19 regulations until the pandemic is a thing of the past. He said he always wears his mask and follows the recommended guidelines to prevent the spread.
"I’m going to continue doing that certainly well into the fall," Cohen said. "(The vaccine) is 94 or 95 percent efficacy, which means there’s a 6 percent chance I’m not really protected.”
Cohen is correct: according to leading COVID-19 vaccination companies Pfizer and BioNTech, their vaccines have an efficacy rate of 95 percent. Russian producer Sputnik has also promoted its 90 percent efficacy.
These statistics are reassuring when it comes to ending the spread of the virus, but the vaccine does not facilitate an immediate return to life as normal in Orange County.
UNC Medical Center nurse manager Turkeisha Brown has been working on the front lines since the start of the pandemic. For her, the beginning of the vaccination process was marked by hopefulness.
“It was a surreal experience,” Brown said. “I was excited to be doing this, not just for myself but for my family, friends and my patients.”
After getting her shots, however, Brown said she's continuing to take the government-advised precautions by wearing her mask, washing her hands and practicing physical distancing.
David Wohl, a professor of medicine for the Division of Infectious Diseases at UNC, said it is important to continue to take the proper precautions and abide by government regulations. Though he received his second dose on Jan. 5, he said he has maintained his safe approach to the pandemic.
“We know the vaccine protects people from getting sick," Wohl said. "We don’t know that the vaccine prevents you from getting infected and infecting others. Everyone has to continue to mask, to be protected, to be careful.”
Working as the medical director of the COVID Vaccination Clinic at UNC Hospitals Hillsborough Campus, Wohl said he has experienced firsthand the ins and outs of vaccine distribution and impact.
Wohl said despite complaints throughout North Carolina due to cancellations and lack of availability, UNC Hospitals has maintained order and efficiency in its vaccine distribution.
“We really, really respect people’s time," Wohl said. "We also don’t want them to infect each other. We want this to be a quick process. We make it easy. The problem is not when you are here. The problem is getting an appointment.”
Wohl said since the state government is not receiving as many doses as it needs from the federal government, there is inherent inefficiency in the Orange County vaccine distribution process.
Though this remains out of the control of frontline workers, Wohl said some local residents are misplacing blame on UNC Hospitals.
“We have much more capacity than we have vaccinations, so people call up and want an appointment, but they can’t get it, and they blame UNC, but it's not UNC’s fault," Wohl said. "We don’t make appointments for when we don’t have vaccines.”
Throughout Chapel Hill and the surrounding region, the scramble to get an appointment has been a common issue for qualified vaccine recipients.
Cohen and Wohl said UNC and Duke University are aiming to make the sign-up process as seamless as possible for patients. Cohen said his experience getting his first dose through Duke was simple.
Sonner said when she got the vaccine, everything was well-organized.
“I’m really looking forward to my second shot," Sonner said. "And I wish everybody would hurry up and get their shots too.”
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