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WCU readies COVID-19 vaccine clinic on campus

With freezers now on campus, staff in place, and volunteers on the way, Western Carolina University is in the final stages of preparations to open a COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

The university will learn later this week how many vaccines it will be receiving. The vaccines will be stored in two recently installed specialty freezers. Once the vaccines arrive, WCU plans to open the clinic late next week, said Courtnee Lingerfelt, director of WCU’s regional COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

“Things are moving fast,” Lingerfelt said. “We have the equipment that we need. We have the supplies that we need. And we are working on getting the people that we need. I think that we will be ready to roll by Feb. 18. That’s our target date.”

The clinic will operate out of WCU’s Health and Human Sciences building. Initially, WCU is partnering with the Jackson County Department of Public Health to reduce its backlog of residents seeking to get vaccines. Once that backlog is cleared, the clinic will begin adding appointments in compliance with North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines, which are currently focused on those in priority Groups 1 and 2. The clinic, which will serve all residents of Western North Carolina, will operate by appointment only.

The clinic initially plans to be open Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Expansion of days and times will be reevaluated as vaccine supply and staffing allows.

“We’re very grateful to be partnering with the Jackson County Health Department,” Lingerfelt said. “They are sharing processes with us. That’s been fantastic.”

The clinic also is partnering with Southwestern Community College as a clinical site for its nursing and health care students. 

North Carolina Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Mandy Cohen said this week that while vaccine distribution partners like WCU or private pharmacies like Walgreens are being brought on board to help distribute the vaccine — the underlying issue of vaccine supply is still very prevalent. Dr. Cohen said that distributors to administer the vaccine is not lacking — however, there simply aren’t vaccines to distribute. North Carolina receives around 140,000 each week for the entire state.

“When you have millions waiting for the vaccine, but you only have thousands to administer, the process is going to be slow,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper this week.

Walgreens pharmacy across NC will be receiving a federal allotment of vaccines this week — however between the 300 locations selected to administer the vaccine — each location will only receive about 100 doses.

It is unclear if the WCU regional vaccine location will take away from community allotments or if doses will be diverted from other areas of the state.

Gov. Cooper did announce this week that Phase 3 of the vaccination process will begin Feb. 24, however, counties like Jackson County noted that with thousands in Phase 1 & 2 still on a waiting list to receive the vaccine, it simply can’t skip to Phase 3 at this time.

The Biden-Harris Administration has committed to increasing vaccine supplies to states and so far has been able to do so slightly — but supply is still not meeting demand.

Details on how to sign up for the vaccine will be forthcoming. Anyone wanting to work as a volunteer can learn more at engagement.wcu.edu/vaccine. 

For more information, contact Lingerfelt at 828-227-7640 or clingerfelt@wcu.edu, or Kellie Monteith, WCU associate vice chancellor of student affairs – health and wellness, at monteith@wcu.edu.

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