It will take at least several weeks for the Forsyth County Department of Public Health to clear a backlog of about 50,000 people ages 75 and up seeking an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination.
The backlog was generated over just 2 1/2 days last week by overwhelming demand from members of that first subgroup in the state's Phase 1B vaccination plan. The department on Thursday closed its call center for additional requests.
The plan is to whittle down the backlog list before accepting new requests, Shontell Robinson, the county’s deputy manager, said Monday. The department is calling back people who weren't able to get through last week, but it isn't leaving a message for those who miss the return call. Officials are also working to open an online appointment option within two weeks.
“The health department is responsible for providing vaccine to the majority of the eligible population," Robinson said.
Novant Health Inc. and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center are making appointments for people affiliated with their respective systems, though some of their elderly patients are also encountering delays.
The backlog for all the providers comes mostly from a significant imbalance of supply and demand.
The county's current goal is vaccinating between 500 and 550 people per day.
About 3,500 people had been vaccinated by the department from Dec. 22 through Monday.
The 3,500 includes people in the Phase 1A distribution category of health care workers caring for patients with COVID-19, those who are at the highest risk of being hospitalized or dying, and those at high risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Robinson said some doses are designated for 85 long-term care facilities in Forsyth not participating in the federal program with CVS Health and Walgreens.
Meanwhile, the department expects to receive this week about 1,950 Pfizer doses and 1,200 Moderna doses from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
That means the current vaccine supply is coming up short of meeting the department's daily vaccination goal.
Robinson said the department will continue to call individuals as they are listed on the backlog — from the top of the list downward — from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekends.
Robinson said people on the backlog list are advised to keep their cellphones with them during the calling periods. Those who still have land lines are at particular risk of missing the call.
And there are potential challenges even for seniors with cell phones: The caller-ID will not say Forsyth Health Department. It's supposed to show the call center's number of 336-703-2081.
"However, we were recently made aware that some cell phone providers are showing as 'unknown,' " Robinson said.
"At this point, it appears that calls made to AT&T and Verizon cell phones have displayed the phone number. It appears that calls made to Sprint cell phones are showing unknown.
"It appears this is a phone carrier issue and out of our control, but our IT department is determining if there's anything we can do," Robinson said.
Robinson cautioned that when the department makes contact with someone on the backlog list, their appointment could be "several days out."
Robinson said the department is not accepting walk-ups for vaccination.
“If vaccine is available near the end of the day due to no-show appointments, those persons in Phase 1A and (subgroup) 1 of Phase 1B who are eligible to receive an appointment will be called and asked if they are available to come in to receive the vaccine on short notice,” the department said.
Robinson said the department will not move to the second and third subgroups until most of the Phase 1A and first Phase 1B subgroup individuals are served.
“I do think things will get better once the vaccine is in the hands of more providers,” Robinson said.
“Hopefully, there will be enough vaccine supply for the masses by springtime.”
The same supply and demand vaccine imbalance is challenging the Guilford County Health Department and the Triad’s three largest hospitals — Forsyth and Wake Forest Baptist medical centers in Winston-Salem and Moses Cone in Greensboro.
Individuals in the Phase 1B first subgroup can get vaccinated in another county if that county health department has doses available.
The News & Record reported on Saturday that all of the Guilford health department’s available Phase 1B vaccination appointments have been filled through at least Thursday. The department reached that appointment status within eight hours Saturday.
Guilford said it would resume appointments once the next round of doses arrives from DHHS. They can be made at www.healthyguilford.com or by calling 336-641-7944.
Forsyth Medical Center began vaccinating Wednesday the first subgroup on Phase 1B, while Wake Forest Baptist started Thursday.
Nikki Nissen, Novant Health Inc.'s chief nursing officer, said in-network individuals to Novant will be notified either through its MyChart website, an email or via a letter in the mail. The system plans to provide a toll-free phone number for questions and scheduling appointments, as well as an online scheduling option through MyChart.
Nissen said vaccinations will be offered on an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekday format until there are enough doses to warrant weekend or extended weekday hours. Novant said its goal is vaccinating between 800 to 1,000 in-network individuals a week systemwide.
Wake Forest Baptist patients will be updated about access to vaccination opportunities through their myWakeHealth account and at www.wakehealth.edu/Coronavirus/Vaccine.
Cone plans to vaccinate "a few hundred people a day" for the first Phase 1B subgroup, spokesman Doug Allred said. As of Friday, Cone has received 21,275 Pfizer and Moderna doses to date, with nearly 5,000 doses provided to front-line staff.
The COVID-19 vaccinations at Cone will be done at 801 Green Valley Road in Greensboro.