Siler City clinic to hold COVID-19 vaccination drive Saturday

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SILER CITY — Vidas de Esperanza, a Siler City clinic, will hold a COVID-19 vaccination drive from 8:20 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday for anyone who wants a dose.

And the best part? No appointment necessary.

“The doctors don’t want to turn away anyone without getting vaccines,” Vidas volunteer and Assistant Director Carolina Torres told the News + Record Wednesday. “We will probably have 50 more vaccines for people who don’t have appointments, but getting an appointment makes the process faster and better.”

The clinic will administer 150 first doses of the Moderna vaccine at 401 N. Ivey Ave. in Siler City, its office location. To make an appointment, people can call or text Torres at 919-930-5916. Walk-ins will likely wait longer than people who have appointments, according to Torres; they also might not receive a dose if supply runs out before they arrive.

“(It’s) first-come, first-served,” said Ascary Arias, the clinic’s founder and president.

Founded in 2004, Vidas de Esperanza (Spanish for “Lives of Hope”) is a Siler City medical and dental clinic that offers free services to those who can’t otherwise afford health care — primarily to residents in Chatham County, though the clinic treats people from surrounding counties as well. Vidas works with the UNC School of Dentistry and School of Medicine.

“They actually provide me with physicians and with dentists to do all the work that we do for free for the Chatham community,” Arias said, adding, “As a result of all the work that we’ve been doing with UNC, UNC saw it fit that we start doing vaccinations in our clinic, and that’s happening this coming Saturday.”

Originally, the clinic had planned to administer the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine based on the Latino community’s response, Arias said.

“They tend to not want to come back, so we figured one shot and they’re not gonna want to come back, so let’s just go ahead and do the J&J,” he added. “That would have been ideal for this particular community.”

On Tuesday, however, the North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services suspended administration of the J&J shot — following CDC and FDA guidance — after several people developed rare blood clot disorders. And once that news came out, the clinic switched over to Moderna with UNC’s help.

“They’re aware of the impact that we have in the community and specifically the Chatham community,” he said of UNC. “... We couldn’t just leave them (the people who’d signed up) hanging, so they decided, you know, we promised you 150 vaccines or however many. We’re going to give you 150 vaccines of Moderna instead.”

The clinic primarily serves and works with Latino patients. About 95% of the clinic’s clientele is Hispanic, he said, and they’ve worked with Novavax to recruit volunteers from Chatham’s Latino community to participate in the pharmaceutical company’s new vaccine trials. But Saturday’s vaccination clinic isn’t just for the Latino community, Arias stressed — it’s for everybody.

So far, about 90 people have signed up, and about 80% are Latino, Arias estimated.

“The majority are Latinos because we started with our list of patients when we started calling people," he said, "but you know, we will call 20 and five of them will say, ‘OK, I want it.’”

Originally, closer to 100 people had signed up, he said, but several have since called back to cancel thanks to the state’s decision to suspend the J&J shot.

“Because J&J had to stop, we’ve had several people who are very concerned and are canceling,” Arias said. “It was an issue. … However, I’m sure and I’m very hopeful that on that day a lot of other people will show.”

According to Torres, the clinic still has a few spots open for appointments between 10 to 11:40 a.m. and after 12 p.m. While making an appointment, people will be asked to provide their full names, dates of birth, addresses and phone numbers. People may pick their appointment times from available slots; each appointment takes about 10 minutes. Walk-ins will need to remain in their cars until clinic staff can come up and register them.

Five nurses will administer the vaccinations inside the clinic. After people receive their shots, staff will direct them to a tent set up with chairs, water and snacks. There, they’ll be monitored for a few minutes to ensure they don’t have any adverse reactions, and then they’ll leave. Staff will also schedule second-dose appointments for patients 28 days later.

This is the first COVID-19 vaccination clinic that Vidas de Esperanza will hold — and Arias hopes it won’t be the last. It all depends on UNC and the community’s response this Saturday, he said.

“Of course, I’m assuming, and I’m hoping that this is only the first time,” he said. “Like with everything, they (UNC) have to see results in order to continue. I’m assuming it’s going to be a great, great event for us.”

And what will it take to make this vaccine clinic the first of many? Have 300 people show up instead of 100 or 150, he said, and highlight the community’s need for even more vaccine drives.

“It is up to our communities to start demanding it, and I think that this will be one way,” he said. “If it’s having too many people and not enough vaccines showing up at one place, hopefully that’ll motivate our authorities to send more vaccines.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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