How to get on a Mecklenburg vaccine wait list, and other COVID tips we learned this week

Hannah Smoot

The Observer hosted a live COVID-19 Q&A with Mecklenburg County deputy health director Dr. Raynard Washington on Wednesday.

Dozens of readers submitted their questions before the event. Here’s what we learned.

Are vaccines safe, and why do we need them?

“The vaccines are both safe and effective,” Washington told the Observer Wednesday.

Both vaccines currently available in the Charlotte area, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, have been issued emergency use authorizations from the FDA, he said.

“It’s important for us to get the vaccine,” Washington said. “…The vaccine helps to slow the spread of the virus in our community. It certainly helps prepare our bodies for potential exposures to the virus.”

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Do I still need to wear a mask and social distance when I’m vaccinated?

Yes, people who have been vaccinated still need to follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask, Washington said.

One of the goals of vaccination is achieving herd immunity, he said. That means having a majority of people vaccinated, in order to cut down on community spread and protect those who aren’t vaccinated.

But that’s still a ways off, he said. Experts expect communities need to have between 75 and 85% of the population vaccinated before achieving herd immunity, Washington said.

As of Wednesday, 97,962 Mecklenburg residents have gotten their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccines, according to state Department of Health and Human Services data.

And 55,020 residents have gotten both injections — roughly 5% of the total population of Mecklenburg County.

The Observer hosted a live COVID-19 Q&A with Mecklenburg County Deputy Public Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington.
The Observer hosted a live COVID-19 Q&A with Mecklenburg County Deputy Public Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington.

How can I get on the county vaccine waiting list?

Anyone eligible for the vaccine can join Mecklenburg County’s wait list by signing up online. Go to: mecklenburgcounty.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eVCxYECHtPu5ajI.

Right now, there are about 6,000 people on that list, and most are educators. The county said that people sometimes make multiple appointments across providers. So if appointments are canceled, slots could open up.

Am I fully protected once I get vaccinated?

Patients will likely see maximum levels of protection against COVID-19 one week after getting the second injection, Washington said.

It’s still possible for people who get vaccinated to catch COVID-19. But in most cases, they are protected from severe complications, Washington said.

And experts still don’t know if people who are fully vaccinated are still able to transmit COVID-19, Washington said. That’s why it’s so important to continue wearing a mask and social distancing, he said.

What’s the difference between FDA approval for vaccines and emergency use authorizations?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been issued emergency use authorizations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, not FDA approval.

FDA approval takes time, Washington said. But the vaccines are safe and effective, he said.

The vaccines were issued an emergency use authorization because of the immediate “public health emergency,” Washington said.

What’s important to know about how these vaccines were developed?

Development of vaccines can take years, Washington said. So some people have wondered how the COVID-19 vaccines were developed so quickly.

But COVID-19 is part of a family of coronaviruses that have been around for at least 50 years, Washington said. “Research into these viruses has been happening for decades,” he said. “So it’s not new.”

And the scientific community was primed for this moment, he said.

“The science community has made so many advances over the last several decades,” he said. “…They already had these technologies read to go, to be able to identify this virus, to be able to sequence it and be able to start to deploy technologies to prevent it or fight against it.”

How will we know when shots are available for our group?

Mecklenburg residents can sign up for CharMeck Alerts for more information on the vaccine rollout, or visit mecknc.gov/covid-19.

You can also find your place in line through the state’s online tool at findmygroup.nc.gov.

And you can find COVID-19 coverage from the Observer at charlotteobserver.com/coronavirus. For more information on where to get a vaccine, visit charlotteobserver.com/vaccine-info.