by Wayne Hardy, White County News, and Beau Evans, Capitol Beat News Service
COVID-19 vaccine appointments remain limited, but some providers are encouraging residents to continue checking as more doses and personnel to administer them become available.
Vaccine requests have been unrelenting since initial demand flooded health departments and private providers earlier this month. The Georgia Department of Public Health has noted the supply has been limited and a quicker and more widespread distribution depends on vaccine allocations from the federal government.
COVID-19 vaccine shipments to Georgia are currently hovering around 80,000 per week, far short of the millions of doses needed for the state to achieve herd immunity, said state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.
Toomey told state lawmakers at a budget hearing Tuesday, Jan. 18, the incoming president Joe Biden’s administration has made “a promise of additional vaccine” that could boost supplies, but those numbers will not be known until after Wednesday’s inauguration.
“We literally don’t know week-to-week what our allocation will be,” Toomey said. “There’s some disconnect between what we were told was coming and what actually is available.”
Biden has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccine doses by May. Health experts expect vaccines to be widely available to the public sometime over the summer. Georgia officials including Gov. Brian Kemp are aiming to vaccinate all nursing-home residents and staff by the end of this month.
Around 451,000 vaccines had been administered in Georgia to hospital workers, nursing home residents and staff and people ages 65 and older as of Monday morning, Toomey said. That marked less than half of doses local health providers and pharmacies had received so far from the federal government.
While state officials are now setting up mass vaccination sites and better systems for eligible Georgians to schedule appointments, Toomey said the only way to halt the virus’ spread will be for state to receive more vaccines.
“At the rate we’re going, it’s going to take many, many months,” Toomey said. “We really need to be able to do these big vaccination sites, and we hope that will happen soon with the availability of more vaccine.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health is currently administering COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1A+, which includes healthcare workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders, as well as adults age 65 or older and their caregivers.
Meanwhile, residents may face the prospect of checking around to find vaccination opportunities.
Appointments at the White County Health Department have been filled through March, said Nurse Manager Cindy King. Those currently eligible to receive the vaccine may still call 706-865-2191 and select prompt 4, then leave their name and phone number for staff to follow up. Callers are asked not to leave repeated messages.
The Health Department has received 800 vaccine doses so far. Patients receiving the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are to receive two does. King asked for patience as first doses continue to be administered, adding that details on second dose clinics expected to start Feb. 1 would be announced.
Requests at other area health departments has also been steady.
“We continue to give vaccines by appointment, and all of our health departments are super busy,” said District 2 Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer “The website and call center are still the best places for appointments. Demand is still high, so it may take several attempts to get an appointment.”
Appointment registration through the 13-county district public health office is available through phdistrict2.org or by calling 1-888-426-5073 or 770-531-5692.
There is also an ongoing need for additional personnel to help administer vaccines. Volunteers from the White County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) have been assigned to assist local health department staff, though state Public Health is recruiting licensed nurses for temporary, part-time positions.
The agency said it is also seeking licensed medical volunteers to give vaccines and nonmedical volunteers to assist with administrative duties.
Prospective volunteers can submit their information at dph.georgia.gov/georgia-responds.
“We have had a good response from medical personnel wanting to help vaccinate,” Palmer said. “So that additional, much needed help will be in place soon.”
Other vaccine providers in White County include MedLink Georgia, Cleveland Drug Company and Ingles Pharmacy. (See related information box.)
Beginning Jan. 22, COVID-19 testing in Public Health District 2 will be conducted by MAKO Medical. Appointments can be made at mako.exchange/splash/GAmakotesting.
In addition, as it transitions from testing to vaccination, District 2 will cease symptomatic testing at all 13 county health departments. Jan. 22 will be the last day that rapid tests will be available.
Residents may also check with their local hospital or health care provider for COVID-19 testing information.