Mayor on Duty

I started the New Year with optimism, especially with the prospect of a robust vaccination program that would finally get us over the Coronavirus pandemic.  We all long to return to a normal lifestyle.  I am still hopeful, but like many of you have concerns about the vaccination program.

A number of people began calling me just before New Year’s Eve asking when they could get the COVID-19 vaccination.  Several pointed out that folks in Florida were already being vaccinated, so when would that program begin in Highlands?

I have been making inquiries about the status of an area vaccination program.  As I have said before, the town does not have a public health department. We rely and work with the Macon County Public Health Department.  North Carolina has a county public health network that serve communities.  

Our county department is part of a system that involves state and federal health agencies.  Therefore, Macon County is allocated vaccine doses based on a complex federal and state formula.

The county has received an initial allocation of Moderna vaccine. Area hospitals were sent the Pfizer vaccine for their critical workers and nursing home residents. The feedback I have received is that the extreme temperatures required for the Pfizer vaccine presents major challenges in distribution in an isolated area like here.

Extreme cold storage facilities are limited or nonexistent. On the other hand, Moderna’s vaccine has less stringent cold storage requirements, so it is the vaccine of choice for this area.

I know folks don’t like to hear this, but some patience is needed when it comes to getting vaccinated.  The vaccination program at the national and state levels has major distribution problems that have impacted local communities. 

The Macon County Health Department has been working this week to resolve these issues, but the challenges of vaccinating thousands of people will not be solved overnight. Those early reports of folks getting vaccinated in Florida were not that accurate. In Florida, senior residents have experienced long, long lines for the shot, and many have been delayed.

I don’t believe the local health departments will have the capacity and resources to meet the vaccination needs for a short-term response. 

Local pharmacies, doctors and hospitals across the nation will have to become involved in the process.  I know major pharmacy chains are planning to become vaccination sites, but they too are encountering delays within the distribution chain.

I am aware that potential local providers are also exploring possibilities. Vaccinating on a large scale is a problem that the nation has not done before. So, it gets back to patience and the continued practice of wearing masks, socially distancing, and washing hands frequently.

I have a few ideas about how to speed up the vaccination process, but they are just my thoughts. We need to quickly train additional professionals how to give the shots.  We also need to create large vaccination centers where folks can get a shot without red tape.  Maybe the national guard and first responders could be involved?

Finally, there may be a game changing vaccine just around the corner. Johnson and Johnson has been developing a one-shot vaccine.  It doesn’t require the extreme cold storage requirements.  Early clinical reports indicate it may have a high efficacy level. The company intends on asking for emergency authorization sometime in February.

There may be multiple vaccination options as we move into the new year. I will muster up more patience, while at the same time advocating for the best outcome for Highlands.

  • Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor

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