As more vaccines become available and the county transitions into different phases of the vaccination distribution process, residents of Forsyth County are expressing frustrations and often confusion.
Forsyth County News spoke with several seniors who are unable to find timeslots for appointments, and some are met with unanswered emails and ringing phone lines. While the county is working closely with the Department of Public Health to distribute vaccines, some are finding it difficult to get an appointment before the slot is filled.
Bill Pouncey said his recent experience with getting a vaccine appointment for himself and his wife, who are both in their 80s.
Pouncey said he has been checking Forsyth County and the Department of Public Health websites every few hours, waiting for information to change or appointments to open. He said he understood there are problems surrounding vaccine distribution and it was no fault of the county, but that did not make his frustration any less real.
“I understand that the two main problems are one, … the county getting the vaccine, and two, … getting people that can administer the vaccine,” Pouncey said. “And that’s not easy to come by right now, I understand.”
“I’m assuming that there’s a lot of us over 65 that don’t want the vaccine, but the majority of us are still waiting our turn,” he said.
Pouncey said he was able to get himself and his wife on a waiting list by driving to the public health office and giving the workers there their names. He said that before he decided to make the drive, he had been trying to communicate with the public health department through email and phone calls, but could never find someone to answer his questions.
“If anything, just the fact that I’ve been able to get on a waitlist makes me feel a little less frustrated,” Pouncey said. “Whether it actually materializes is something that remains to be seen.”
Pouncey also expressed concern about rumors of people signing up for vaccines that did not qualify for the current 1-A+ group, which includes health care workers and those age 65 and older.
“Maybe there’s an assumption there on our part, and I don’t know anyone in Forsyth County who doesn’t qualify and has gotten the shot,” Pouncey said. “But it just seems so strange that [the county] puts a new place to get the shots [online], and then within 10 minutes [the appointments] are all gone. How does that happen? As old people, we just don’t move that fast.”
Dave Palmer, the District 2 Department of Public Health public information officer, said information is always verified upon arriving to an appointment and that a form of identification can be requested at the time of the appointment.
“When a person uses our online registration tool, the first question is to choose the group that describes you: health care, long-term care, first responder of 65 years of age and older or caregiver of 65 years of age and older,” Palmer said. “If a person does not fit in one of the groups, the person would select “none of the above,” and receive a message that they are not eligible for the vaccine at this time.
Some members of Forsyth County have been able to register elderly parents, though the parents’ information – name, date of birth, county, address – must be correct and is verified.
Vivian Heard, director of communications and public relations at Pinecrest Academy, has also been trying to find a vaccination appointment for her parents, both in their 80s. Heard explained that her mother survived a serious illness last year, and that has put her in the high-risk category for COVID-19.
Heard said she tried to register her parents for vaccination appointments through their primary care doctors but encountered a problem in the form of a MyChart portal system, which neither of her parents have accounts.
“If you think about it, those eligible for the vaccine right now are 65 and older,” Heard said. “My guess is that folks closer to my parents' ages don't use the portals either. So that serves as a bit of a roadblock.”
Heard said she will be setting up accounts for her parents as soon as possible to get them registered for an appointment.
“I think the key is being persistent in checking back often and being patient, since this was the first week the vaccine was available to the 65+ age group,” Heard said.
Chris Grimes, director of Forsyth’s Emergency Management Agency, reiterated the fact that patience and persistence are key factors in waiting for more COVID-19 vaccination appointments to open.
Grimes explained how Forsyth County is helping the DPH distribute vaccines to county commissioners on Tuesday, Jan. 12. In his presentation, he said that Northside Hospital Forsyth, the fire department, sheriff’s office and two organizations from the faith community have been working together to help supplement public health’s administration of vaccines.
Vaccination events are starting in Forsyth County on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and continuing each week at Browns Bridge Church and First Redeemer Church. At press time, all appointment slots are full, but Grimes said the county hopes to open more time slots soon.
“We know that residents are wanting to sign up, and once we confirm that there is vaccine supply available, we are looking to hold additional vaccination events,” Grimes said.
Grimes also asks residents to not call the two churches, as they are unable to make appointments or place residents on a waitlist for vaccines.
The county website is offering an email subscription for county government news to those who would like to sign up. By signing up, residents will receive emails from the county, including any updates on the availability of vaccine appointments. For more information, visit www.forsythco.com to sign up for an email subscription.
Grimes said Forsyth County officials are aware that there is a lot of frustration surrounding the COVID-19 vaccination process, and encourages residents to be patient and stay informed.
While Pouncey and Heard were unable to secure an appointment, they say they are doing their best to remain persistent in a time of constantly changing news and information.
“I guess that what we need to do is what we’ve been doing, and that is being as careful as we can,” Pouncey said.