Mass vaccination site not out of the question for Southeast Georgia

Taylor Cooper, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·4 min read

Feb. 23—The Georgia Emergency Management Agency announced last week the opening of four COVID-19 mass vaccination sites across the state, but none in Southeast Georgia or the coastal area.

The drive-thru sites in Albany, Macon, Hapeville and Clarkesville, which opened Monday, are each expected to have the supply and manpower to administer 1,100 doses of COVID vaccine a day for a total 22,000 a week, according to a statement from GEMA

"(GEMA's) efforts are designed to address the vaccination needs of underserved populations that have been hardest hit by COVID-19," said agency Director Chris Stallings. "The four sites selected all have surrounding populations with high percentages of minorities and individuals with incomes below the poverty line."

That's not to say the southeast will be left out to dry, said GEMA spokeswoman Lisa Rodriguez-Presley.

"We are starting with four sites in and are looking to potentially expand the number of sites when the state's allocation of vaccine increases," she said.

Georgia's EMA decided site locations based on "community equity profiles" created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which she described as "a report that FEMA produces that shows the racial makeup, economic stats and other pertinent information for each county."

"The sites are designed to address the needs of some of Georgia's underserved communities, so we looked at the population — how many live below the poverty line, how many are minorities, etc. — and took those things into consideration when choosing site locations," Rodriquez-Presley said.

She also noted that one does not have to live near a mass vaccination site to receive a shot there. Any Georgia resident who meets the criteria for Phase 1 of the vaccination program can make an appointment at myvaccinegeorgia.com.

Phase 1 includes those 65 or older, their caretakers, nursing home residents and employees, healthcare workers and emergency first responders.

In the Coastal Health District, vaccination efforts have been primarily headed up by local health departments, the Southeast Georgia Health System and other providers, including pharmacies, urgent care centers and health clinics.

Of the 118,000 vaccines administered in the eight-county coastal district, just over 51,000 were given by the Coastal Health District via county health departments, according to Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the health district.

Anyone in the coastal district who falls into Phase 1 can schedule a vaccination appointment online at chdcovidvax.org or by calling 912-230-5506.

Local vaccination efforts did not start off smoothly. Due to the high demand, the health district started giving shots on an appointment basis only, but residents overwhelmed the online portal and the phones just days after they opened in January.

Earlier this month, the health district reopened the appointment-taking process using an improved system.

"We continue to tweak and refine the appointment scheduling system, but overall it has been working very well," Davis said. "We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from residents who have used the system to get vaccination appointments at our health departments."

While more and more are getting vaccinated, the spread of the highly contagious respiratory disease has slowed little. A "post-holiday surge" in new cases has leveled out, Davis said, but the rate of transmission in the community remains high compared to other areas of the state.

"I believe most of our residents understand that good public health practices like hand-washing, social distancing and masks are important and useful in controlling the spread of infection. I would encourage folks to please keep up those efforts," Davis said.

New variants of the disease make such measures even more important as they can stop them from getting a foothold in the population.

Details on Phase 2 criteria and when the vaccination program might begin have yet to be announced by the state Department of Public Health, but Davis said information should be forthcoming.

"We don't yet have a clear picture of what that's going to look like but expect to get clarification soon," Davis said.

Eventually, enough people will be immune to the disease to achieve what he called "herd immunity." Until then, he said residents should remain cautious.

"I believe this summer is going to be a pivotal time in the pandemic," Davis said. "People are tired of staying close to home and summer is typically a season of travel. That could very well lead to another surge in cases."