As COVID-19 vaccines reach more people than ever in Western North Carolina, local colleges and universities are playing a big role.
Western Carolina University gave its 10,000th vaccine dose on April 7. A-B Tech has hosted the tens of thousands of shots administered by Buncombe County.
The clinic at UNC Asheville has been the site of more than 11,000 vaccinations and Mars Hill University is ramping up on-campus vaccination clinics, planning its third.
Students are giving shots and manning phones as well as lining up to get their vaccinations.
“There’s a real sense we’re really contributing to the public good,” said Sarah Broberg, special assistant to the chancellor for communication and marketing at UNCA. “For so long, many of us felt sort of helpless.”
Partnering with the Mountain Area Health Education Center, the clinic at UNCA has been rolling since February and has given more than 11,000 doses, she said.
Being able to give back and support public health in the community and UNCA’s own backyard has given them a great sense of community spirit and digging in to help the fight against COVID-19, Broberg said.
The clinic at Western Carolina University started in February as well, helping to clear Jackson County Health Department’s backlog of people wanting vaccines.
Plateaued numbers:Buncombe’s COVID-19 numbers flat; vaccines open to everyone
Courtney Lingerfelt, physician assistant with WCU Health Services, is the clinic director at WCU, where between 500-600 shots are administered four days a week.
By the end of the day April 8, the clinic had given 10,624 shots, she said.
“Universities are very well set up to prop something like this open,” Lingerfelt, said, of the vaccination effort.
Universities already have volunteer teams, logistics, parking and IT, she said, so it was a relatively easy move to make.
WCU’s clinic started up after about three weeks of work from a core team of seven volunteers, Lingerfelt said, but once classes let out for the summer, they’ll be in dire need of more volunteers.
“It feels incredible to be part of the solution,” she said. “To actually be preventing new disease from spreading is really fantastic.”
Allowing the region to get back to normal this fall is the goal, Lingerfelt said, specifically at Western so students can come back to campus.
A-B Tech has primarily provided the location for the county’s first-dose vaccination site, said Kerri Glover, executive director of community relations and marketing at A-B Tech.
According to numbers presented at the county board of commissioners meeting April 6, the county has partially vaccinated at least 36,699 people.
The college provides a good central location, and it had the conference center space which was going unused thanks to the pandemic, she said, offering space to the Mexican consulate for its vaccination efforts as well.
A-B Tech has also donated protective equipment and helps to train first responders, Glover said.
“It’s nice to be a part of the solution and be able to provide our resources,” she said. “The sooner we get people vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normal.”
Both vaccination events on campus at Mars Hill have been successful and another is in the works, said Mark Thornhill, director of communications.
The first was for faculty and staff who qualified as essential workers, and the second was open to students and others in the community as more groups became available, he said, and a third one for students is currently in the planning with Madison County.
Supply and demand:‘Plenty of supply’ in NC, as COVID-19 vaccine focus shifts to demand
“As a campus as a whole, we’re excited about that opportunity,” he said. “Personally, (I’m) glad to be a part of a campus community able to do that.”
Local students, too, have been rolling up their sleeves on both sides of the syringe.
At UNCA April 8, about 550 students were vaccinated with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and will have its next student-dedicated clinic alongside Warren Wilson College on April 11, Broberg said.
“They’re so excited,” she said. “(There’s a) sense of relief and excitement and gratitude that they’re able to get the vaccine before the end of the school year, before they go home or travel for the summer.”
The whole day of vaccinations…
News Read More: Colleges, universities help drive vaccinations