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No vaccine left behind: UNC Health provides surplus COVID-19 vaccines to residents

Fourth year pharmacy student Hannah Kim prepares syringes at the end of a day of of vaccinations at the Friday Center on Monday, Mar. 22, 2021.

All adults in North Carolina will be eligible for a vaccine beginning on April 7. But for Chapel Hill residents, the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine may be coming to an end even sooner. 

UNC Health is providing surplus doses to residents living within 20 minutes of the Friday Conference Center, located at 100 Friday Center Drive in Chapel Hill, to ensure that no vaccines are wasted. 

Elizabeth Ramsey, director of clinical business operations for UNC Health, said those seeking to obtain these vaccines must be at least 18 years old. 

The vaccination site uses an independent Twitter account to notify the Chapel Hill community of excess doses. 

From Twitter, residents are instructed to call the surplus line, a dedicated phone number used for gathering patient names. Ramsey said the phone line operates on a first-come, first-serve basis, and callers who get through are placed on the vaccine list. 

“There is a small chance they won’t receive a dose that day,” Ramsey said. “But they will be scheduled within typically about a week at the clinic to receive an actual appointment.” 

The site offers all approved vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. Ramsey said that depending on the day, all three might not be available. Patients cannot choose between manufacturers, she said. 

Kelsey Divers, clinical operations manager, said UNC Health began offering the extra doses to guarantee none would go to waste. 

As of Friday, 25 people have used the service thanks to the Twitter account and surplus phone line. Ramsey credits Dr. Daniel Park, pediatric emergency medicine physician, and Dr. David Wohl, infectious diseases physician, with the idea of using social media. 

“Dr. Park and Dr. Wohl were talking about the challenge we have of making sure we’re using every single dose at the end of the day,” Ramsey said. “They thought Twitter was a fast and efficient way to communicate with a lot of people.” 

Boone Williams, a first-year majoring in business administration at UNC, said although he believes social media is an effective platform, he had to book his appointment another way because he isn't active on Twitter.

Williams said he thinks an email or text list would also be an efficient way of notifying the community.  

Ramsey said the clinic is working on making use of other forms of communication, such as radio announcements. This would provide those without access to social media or online technology the necessary information about available doses.  

To ensure equitable distribution, the clinic has collaborated with community partners to prioritize marginalized and vulnerable populations, Ramsey said. 

Divers said she views this service as a step in the right direction and encourages Chapel Hill residents to take advantage of the phone line. 

“It’s been a long year for a lot of people,” Divers said. “I am just looking forward to the day that we can resume normal activity.” 

Chapel Hill resident Tyrel Souza said he is grateful that UNC Health is offering doses to students and other community members.

“A lot of students will potentially interact with those of us who are not students,” Souza said. “So, being able to help everybody just makes everything more equal.” 

Souza called the surplus phone line, but he said he was unable to get on the vaccine list. 

Ramsey said she believes this service is essential due to the shortage of vaccines in North Carolina and thinks UNC has done a good job of not allowing for any wasted doses. 

“If we have extra doses, then those can go into people's arms and save lives,” she said. “Our staff operates as if this is another person that then has the opportunity to get the vaccine that otherwise wouldn’t have got vaccinated. And that’s really meaningful.” 

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