Duke Hospital COVID-19 hotline operator gives insight on scheduling vaccine appointments

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- If you've called to try and make an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine, you know how frustrating it can be when thousands of others are making calls at the exact same time. But what is it like for the operator on the other end of the line?

For eight hours a day, Walter Williams works from home taking calls from anxious patients trying to get on Duke Health's schedule for the COVID-19 vaccine.

For Williams, calls are nonstop and oftentimes stressful yet he doesn't seem to mind.

"It is truly a blessing," said Williams. "We are helping people in a lot of difficult situations."

Williams' entire career has been about helping others, he used to be a nurse until health problems began to get in the way.

Back in August, he started this role and it's keeping him connected to helping patients-just in a different way.

"If they have been on hold for a long period of time it's like, 'Oh, finally someone's answering my call.' Once you schedule them they feel so much better. They are like, 'Thank you. I can finally hold my grandchildren again. I can walk my daughter down the aisle for her wedding in the future.' You know, it is hope," said Williams.

Duke COVID-19 hotline specialists receive 5,500 calls a day. Meanwhile, Wake County Health estimates they receive 300 calls an hour.

Since November, with the vaccine announcement and then the rollout, Williams says the calls are nonstop.

Right now, people 65 and older and healthcare workers are eligible to schedule an appointment.

For the most part, Walter's patients are almost always relieved to get a booking.

"I say thank you. It's my pleasure to be able to help. Sometimes they kind of build you up like you're some kind of magician. Like, 'Oh wow, you did this for me!? I can't believe it.' It gives me a sense of joy. That I'm able to help people like that."

But this week, Williams says there's now a shortage of the COVID-19 vaccine, patients are being waitlisted until hospitals can receive more.

The list at Duke Health growing to 55,000. In Wake County, the health department currently has more than 77,000 on the waitlist for the vaccine.

Williams offers this comforting advice to those calling but can't get through, "More vaccines are coming. Don't give up. Keep calling. Get on the waitlist. If you get on the waitlist. We will get to you very soon."

Wake County Health and Human Services say it's best to call during nonpeak hours for eligible patients to get on their waitlist. The agency says the best time to call is before 8 a.m. and after 6 p.m.

Duke Health COVID-19 hotline can be reached at (919) 385-0429, option 2 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Appointments are currently full, but people can add their names to our vaccine waitlist by calling the hotline or going on the website.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.