UNC Rex Hospital leader says vaccination process is like 'flying the plane and trying to put the parts on as you're going'

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Frustrations are boiling over the process for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. People are struggling to secure appointments and wondering why it's taking so long.

Some health care leaders are also frustrated.

UNC Rex Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linda Butler explained that there's a logistical labyrinth of regulations.

"It's like flying the plane and trying to put the parts on as you're going along," Butler said.

Butler walked ABC11 through the hurdles of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and it's a process she said she wishes was far less complex.

Where can you get a COVID-19 vaccine in NC? Tracking availability and progress

"Oh heavens yes, we would love to be able to streamline it," Butler said. "I do understand the need to prioritize to make sure those who are most at risk get the vaccine first."

To start, Butler said the most difficult part is identifying who is in what phase and whether a person is eligible at this time.

Then comes registration.

Medical records need to be uploaded and accepted into two different systems.

The files go into a hospital's internal system and also the North Carolina's COVID-19 Vaccine Management System, which is tracking how many shots are administered statewide.

"We've had people who tried for two weeks to get registered in the system and some people, you upload the email and it works perfectly and it's just minutes," Butler said.

Once a patient is registered in both places, he or she is screened in-person and given reading material before receiving the shot.

"Then you also have the fact that vaccine has refrigeration and freezer requirements. It takes three hours to thaw in the fridge or 30 minutes to thaw out on a counter top," Butler said. "Then each vial you have to have to reconstitute it. You can get five or six doses out of that vial, but once it's in that syringe - you only got six hours (to use it) and we don't want to waste a single dose."

Immunization itself is quick, but a patient does need to be observed on-site 15 to 30 minutes after ... just to make sure there are no problems.

Another appointment is scheduled for the second dose.

For the Pzifer shot, it's 21 days out and 28 days for Moderna vaccine.

Tens of thousands of North Carolinians are trying to go through this process at once, and health care workers are also waiting.

"We're still kind of going through all of our own coworkers here to administer vaccine," Butler said.

UNC Health has opened 15 new vaccinations clinics this week for the public.

The biggest one is the Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

In the last five days at this location, staff did about 10,000 vaccinations.

UNC Health has administered more than 37,000 doses system wide to date.

"It's challenging to do the right thing but be as efficient as possible," Butler said.

Next week at the Friday Center, workers are hoping to put a dent in the backlog and planning to administer about 600 vaccines a day at the location.
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