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COVID-19 Updates, Testing and Vaccines

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Buncombe County's COVID-19 Phase 1a Immunizations

After months of anticipation and planning, Buncombe County Health and Human Services (BCHHS) is administering its first round of COVID-19 vaccines beginning this week.  Buncombe County received 700 doses of the Moderna vaccine Monday afternoon. On Dec. 22, 2020, paramedics, firefighters, and Public Health staff working at the testing and vaccinations sites were given their first dose in the two-part COVID vaccination series.  

Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County’s Public Health Director, acknowledges the importance of the moment and this first vaccine administration. “Receiving vaccine on Monday, was a welcomed and  wonderful holiday gift. We are a part of history right now and what this vaccine represents now and in the future is significant in so many ways. We still have months of hard work that will require all of us to continue to follow the existing precautions as we move to get more and more people vaccinated.”   

BCHHS Public Health and Emergency Services will continue to administer the vaccine to those who are in Phase 1a as the vaccine arrives. People getting vaccinated must register in an immunization registry system to ensure that they receive the right vaccine both times and are given a card with their vaccine information to present at each vaccination event. Protection from the  vaccine is not immediate; the currently available vaccines  require 2 doses each and it will take 1-2 weeks following the 2nd dose to be considered fully vaccinated. The individuals who are getting immunized today will come back for their second round in approximately 28 days.   

BCHHS will follow the 5-phase distribution plan recommended by the  North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). 

Vaccine distribution will take place in phases. Check out this handy infographic: English Spanish

Phase 1a: Health care workers fighting COVID-19 & Long-Term Care staff and residents.

  • Health care workers caring for and working directly with patients with COVID-19, including staff responsible for cleaning and maintenance in those areas.
  • Health care workers administering vaccine.
  • Long-term care staff and residents—people in skilled nursing facilities and in adult, family and group homes.

Phase 1b: Adults 75 years or older and frontline essential workers.

There is not enough vaccine for everyone in this phase to be vaccinated at the same time. Vaccinations will be available to groups in the following order.

  • Group 1: Anyone 75 years or older, regardless of health status or living situation. People do not have to have a chronic health condition. 
  • Group 2: Health care workers and frontline essential workers 50 years or older.
    • The CDC defines frontline essential workers as first responders (e.g., firefighters and police officers), corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, and those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members) as well as child care workers.
  • Group 3: Health care workers and frontline essential workers of any age, regardless of whether they work directly with COVID-19 patients. This phase is anticipated to being in early January. 

Phase 2: Adults at high risk for exposure and at increased risk of severe illness.

Vaccinations will happen by group in the following order:

  • Group 1: Anyone 65-74 years old, regardless of health status or living situation.
  • Group 2: Anyone 16-64 years old with a medical condition that increases risk of severe disease from COVID-19, such as cancer, COPD, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes, among others, regardless of living situation.
  • Group 3: Anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function.
  • Group 4: Essential workers not yet vaccinated.
    • The CDC defines these as workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing (e.g., construction), finance (e.g., bank tellers), information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, and public safety (e.g., engineers), and public health workers.

Phase 3: Students

  • College and university students.
  • K-12 students age 16 and over. Younger children will only be vaccinated when the vaccine is approved for them.

Phase 4: Everyone who wants a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccination.

Taylor Jones, Buncombe County Emergency Services Director, expects that many will be ready and willing to take the vaccine when it is their turn. “We are working through the priority population for the vaccine now to protect those who care for others by providing medical care and saving lives. I am hopeful that many in our community will be encouraged by the news of the vaccine and will strongly consider getting immunized when it is available to them. I am relieved that our first responders are now able to protect their own lives as they continue their work in saving the lives of others.”  

Buncombe County continues to work with a diverse group of community partners to ensure a timely, comprehensive, and equitable COVID response plan is adhered to. We are grateful for the many partnerships in place that have helped us to test and immunize our community. While an end is in sight for this pandemic, we must hang on and continue to follow the public health measures such as the 3Ws. Vaccinated people should continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others such as wearing a face covering, social distancing, and handwashing as well as avoiding crowds and quarantining after an exposure and limiting contact with others to the extent that you are able. All of these steps together will help us get back to more normal times!  

For more information on COVID-19 testing and vaccine in Buncombe County, visit