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'Whatever you do, do not give up' | Randolph County man helping seniors with limited resources sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments

Elworth Cheek is working with the Randolph County Health Department and others in the community to reach people who are struggling to land a vaccine appointment.

NORTH CAROLINA, USA — Health departments and providers are still trying to vaccinate people age 65 and older, as they look ahead to the next group becoming eligible. 

Paul Graves is 77-years-old and lives in Guilford County. He said he's been trying for weeks to get a shot.

"Every time I call they say all the positions have been filled. Call back later and I call back and it's the same thing," he said.

He doesn't have a computer or a smartphone. Only a landline to get through to someone. 

Graves said he was told he was on a waiting list a month ago but hasn't heard back since.

Graves is one of many in the Triad that has been eligible for weeks but hasn't been able to get an appointment yet.

The Guilford County Health Department said they're continually vaccinating groups as recommended by NCDHHS. 

The health department said it encourages those 65 and older to be patient as demand for vaccines in the county exceeds supply. 

RELATED: Where to receive your coronavirus vaccine: County-by-county list for the Piedmont Triad

That same demand is being felt over in Randolph County, where Health Director Susan Hayes said they're getting 100 more doses to add to their supply next week. 

"The thing is in Randolph county there's around 24,000 people that are age 65 and older," said Hayes. 

She said while group 3 will be eligible in the next few weeks, more vaccine is needed with increased demand. 

"It really hasn’t changed anything because at this point it makes those in that group that the governor has bumped up, educator childcare folk, it makes them eligible but we still don’t have enough vaccine," she said. 

Hayes said community members are helping them get in touch with people in underrepresented communities and those with limited resources. 

Elworth Cheek is helping with that effort. 

"We have to continue to advocate and continue to be heard and the underserved communities they need help. A lot of people not tech-savvy. A lot of people don’t have computers, some people don’t have telephones," said Cheek, "So what do you do? You have to reach out to the community in the best way that you know how. You do that by word of mouth and word of mouth really gets it around."

Cheek hands names off to the health department, and the health department reaches out to see how they can help.

"They say they call like 20 times a day and never could get through, and they said they so frustrated and they really wanted that vaccine but they’re so frustrated they said can you help me," said Cheek. 

Elworth said with other pastors and members in the community, they've compiled a list of 136 names in the last three weeks to help people get vaccine appointments. 

"I think more or less out of frustration when they can't get through, out of frustration they say, 'I'm gonna just quit'" Cheek said. 

"Elworth is one of our champions in our community," said Hayes, "We often reach out to him and others in our community, especially with our folks that have limited access to resources. We have go-to people and Elworth is one of those people."

Elworth said with the increase in vaccine that state and federal leaders are talking about, he hopes that will help appointments roll out faster and get the vaccine into more arms more quickly. 

In the meantime, he encourages people not to give up. 

"Whatever you do, do not give up. It might take you a little while longer to get from point A to point B. Keep searching, keep looking, it's so easy to get frustrated," he said. 

RELATED: Here's how the government divides up available vaccine doses

Hayes hopes that with increased supply and additional providers to roll out the vaccine, more people will have less of a hard time scheduling appointments as time goes on.

Hayes said in an effort to make the process easier for everyone, they've joined Randolph Health in their initiative to pre-register people for vaccine appointments. 

"Those folks who register will be taken in order in the way they register, so by date. So the folks that have already done that, we'll get to them first. We’re not going to bump 65 and older group to get to educators," Hayes said, "Science tells us that the age 65 and over are the ones that are most at risk for severe illness and death and were going to continue with that group."

To pre-register, visit the Randolph County Health Department's website, and scroll down to the COVID-19 vaccine registration form. 

Hayes said if you need help with registration, you can call 336-365-6110 starting again Monday at 9 a.m., and someone on the line will assist you with registration. 

Hayes said the health department recently joined the pre-registration that Randolph Health rolled out, in hopes it makes the process easier. 

The health department welcomes feedback from the community and asks for patience as they wait for more vaccine supplies to come. 

The Randolph County Health Department also has a hotline for county-specific questions and concerns. That number is 336-318-6227 and is open from Monday to Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

RELATED: NC COVID-19 Blog: Guilford County's percentage of positive tests remains higher than state's

The Guilford County Health Department said their appointments fill within minutes each week they reopen. That forces them to wait until the next vaccine allotment to begin registration again. 

"Please remain diligent in your efforts to schedule a vaccine. We are navigating through this process (registration, scheduling, vaccine clinic logistics, vaccine administration) as quickly and efficiently as possible," the health department said.

The Guilford County Health Department is rolling out vaccine appointments for the next round on Tuesday, Feb. 16. Appointments will be available starting at 8 a.m. Eligible community members can register online at healthyguilford.com, or by phone at 336-641-7944, Option 2. 

"We are also encouraging everyone to subscribe to text message updates about the COVID-19 vaccine in Guilford County by texting GC19 to 888777 (GC19S to 888777 for updates in Spanish)," said the health department.