Fledra Hatch awaits her Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Durham County Department of Public Health in Durham, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Julia Wall/The News & Observer via AP)
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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — At 96, Fledra Hatch rolled up the sleeve of her purple blouse and stared bravely ahead as the needle pushed the long-sought coronavirus vaccine into her left shoulder.

Ten feet away, her husband, 92-year-old John, set his umbrella on the floor, pulled off his trench coat and offered the vaccinator his arm, chatting politely as he felt a small pinch.

Then the Durham couple, married 61 years, took their chairs and waited, still far enough away from each other to muffle their speech through N95 masks. Tonight, they said, they will rest easy.

“It feels good,” Fledra Hatch said, a fresh bandage on her shoulder. “People of color, they didn’t want to do this. Many, many didn’t. I would advise them to get it because this thing is rampant, and it’s getting worse. I’m glad to be here.”

“I’ll be glad when I get back in church and thank the Lord,” said John Hatch.

The Hatches took the first time slots Friday as the Durham County Department of Public Health began giving the Moderna vaccine to seniors 75 and older, beginning Phase 1b of the state’s rollout.

Technically, said Health Director Rodney Jenkins, the county remains in Phase 1a, intended for health care workers. But Friday marked the first availability for seniors chosen by the state.

It comes as the state Department of Health and Human Services begins its “You Have a Spot, Take Your Shot” campaign aimed at educating the public about the COVID-19 vaccine and when it will be available.

About 1,100 people have gotten vaccinated through the health department, Jenkins said, and thousands more through Duke University Hospital.

Eventually, DHHS hopes the whole population will take the vaccine, which will be free. But skittishness about its safety persists.

For that reason, Durham County offered its vaccines by appointment only, vaccinating no more than four people at a time. The hope, Jenkins said, is that people will feel more at ease if they know they won’t be standing in long lines, packed together, and still come out unvaccinated.

“This is a very fragile, vulnerable population,” Jenkins said. “We want people to feel comfortable, to understand the science, to be able to come and get the vaccine without worry.”

Fledra Hatch said she jumped at the chance once she got “that nice call” inviting her to the clinic. She qualifies as a Durham celebrity, having competed in the 2019 N.C. Senior Games and sprinted the 50-meter dash in 17.45 seconds — best in her nonagenarian age group.

“I didn’t know I was an athlete until I was in my 90s,” she said, slightly embarrassed at the mention of her feat. “I did it in Albuquerque (for the national competition), but I came in second. I really wanted to win there!”

Across the way John Hatch, a professor emeritus in public health at UNC-Chapel Hill, considered the change in his habits. He shops for groceries and chats with neighbors, but always behind a mask and with some hesitance. Being vaccinated won’t remove any of those precautions, he said, but he can go about them more confidently.

“It’s been an uneasy time,” he said. “I appreciate the science that went into what I think is a remarkably quick turnaround. I will rest easier. I don’t know how long it takes to be effective, but I thank all these young folks for helping out.”