by KATE SHUNNEY
In the first mass vaccination event for COVID-19 in Morgan County, the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department on Saturday administered the first dose of a Pfizer COVID vaccine to more than 150 county residents aged 80 and over. The event was set to run from noon until 4 p.m. at Berkeley Springs High School on January 9. Health officials said they had roughly 150 doses of the vaccine to give out to qualified residents. By 11:30 a.m., volunteers and staff had given out 150 numbers to seniors to secure their place in line to get the first vaccine shot inside the Berkeley Springs High School gymnasium.
Interest was so high in the event that by mid-morning, traffic on U.S. 522 was at times backed up near the high school as vehicles waited to turn into the parking lot or get their vaccination number. There were people in the vehicle line for the vaccination event who arrived after the first 150 numbers were assigned. They were told they could wait to see if additional doses would become available during the four-hour event. Health Department director Bill Kearns said that is because nurses can sometimes pull more doses from a vaccine vial than the pharmaceutical company estimates. Several more doses were offered to those over 80 shortly after 2 p.m.
Once vaccinations began inside the gymnasium, older residents moved quickly through the process. By 12:30 p.m., staff and volunteer nurses had given a shot to more than 60 people. By 1 p.m., more than 120 people had received their first dose of the vaccine.
At the vaccination event, residents had to show proof of their address and birthdate, provide contact information for follow-up doses, and answer several screening questions — whether they had been ill recently, if they had received any vaccine in the last two weeks, and if they had ever had an allergic reaction to any vaccination. Once screened, individuals moved straight to vaccination stations, received their shot and were directed to a waiting area where they were told to sit for 10 minutes to ensure they had no reaction to the vaccine.
After receiving her vaccine with her husband, Arlene Verge said she was very excited to have gotten the first dose and was impressed by how well run the vaccination event was.
“We’re here because we want to be able to live healthfully. We believe in science, and it’s served us well,” Verge said. “This is supremely well-organized,” she said of the event. She and her husband were numbers 50 and 51 in the line, and received their shots at 12:30 p.m.
Those who received their first dose of the vaccine Saturday will be contacted by the Health Department when a follow-up second dose is available and an event is coordinated to administer it. Individuals were given a fact sheet about the vaccine, possible side effects and contact information for the Pfizer company.
Nursing director Angela Gray said her team had been working hard at multiple vaccination events in the two counties, delivering hundreds of doses to residents in the designated age categories. Additional doses of the vaccine will come into the Eastern Panhandle as the state receives them.
Event organizers said community partners made the event possible, from use of the school to nursing and medical volunteers who administered shots, to community groups who dropped off food for volunteers, staff and residents. At roughly noon, a truck carrying a port-a-john from a local septic company was dropped off to accommodate seniors and their families who waited in the vehicles in several parking lots to be called for their turn to get the vaccine.
“We couldn’t do this without our community partners,” said Health Department Community Health Coordinator Jennifer Schetrompf.