City approves some legal protection for volunteers at drive-thru vaccine clinics

Charles Oliver, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
·2 min read

Feb. 17—The Dalton City Council has approved a resolution for the city to provide some legal protection to those helping with the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinics that have been hosted by the city and others.

"The doctors who are helping us administer these vaccinations are all retired and don't have their (malpractice) insurance," Mayor David Pennington said.

The clinics, hosted by the city, Whitfield County and the North Georgia Health District at the Dalton Convention Center, have been a success, Pennington said, administering some 5,000 doses.

The resolution, which passed 4-0 (Pennington only votes if there is a tie), promises that the city "shall provide legal services by the city attorney, or other attorneys as may be determined by the city, to defend any injury-related liability claim made against" those administering COVID-19 vaccines.

The resolution also says the city will "assert any immunity defense arising from the sovereign immunity of the city of Dalton as a municipal corporation of the state of Georgia and any immunity defense arising from the Federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) at the city's expense for any personal injury or death liability claim arising from the administration of a COVID-19 vaccine pursuant to the city of Dalton vaccine program."

The PREP Act protects healthcare providers from immunity from damages, except for willful misconduct, for measures taken to prevent or reduce the spread of disease during a public health emergency. Sovereign immunity generally protects governments from lawsuits.

The resolution also provides protection to others involved with the drive-thru clinics, according to City Attorney Terry Miller.

"It protects the vaccine administrator, who is (Dalton Fire Chief Todd Pangle), the facilities director, who is City Council member Annalee Harlan, and the medical director, Dr. Luis Viamonte," he said. "It protects all of the volunteer healthcare workers, not just physicians. The protection is just legal defense, to assert state and federal legal protections for medical volunteers and the city's sovereign immunity. It isn't a wholesale medical malpractice defense."

The protection is retroactive to the first drive-thru clinic on Jan. 18.