Southeast Georgia counties halt vaccine appointments

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – The Georgia Department of Public Health on Thursday reported 5,969 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those cases, 85 were reported in the six Southeast Georgia counties tracked by News4Jax.

During a news conference on Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state’s hospitals are using emergency capacity. Kemp said the state is not expanding vaccination criteria. It is still only offering the shot to those who qualify in the Phase 1a Plus population, which includes:

  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Caregivers of adults 65 and older
  • Emergency first responders
  • Healthcare workers
  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities

“Looking ahead, we will be announcing further mass vaccination sites in the coming days to expand our vaccine efforts given the increased supply of an additional 40,000 doses per week,” said Kemp. “That is certainly good news but our overall allocation remains unchanged. For now, demand will continue to far exceed the supply of the vaccine that we have.”

According to CDC data, about four percent of the population in the peach state received its first dose of a vaccine. While it’s not clear why Georgia is falling behind other states across the country, public health researchers say that it typically lagged in funding public health and addressing disparities in care for its big rural population.

Eleven days ago the Coastal Health District, which serves part of Southeast Georgia, announced its temporarily pausing appointment scheduling to get the vaccine.

The Coastal Health District said it halted the process to make sure they have enough vaccines and enough staff.

Right now there’s no telling when it will start back up again, but officials say it could be soon. It has created a site where you can sign up to be notified when more appointments do become available. It’s important to note, registering online to be notified does not guarantee a vaccination appointment.

Within a few days of Governor Brian Kemp expanding vaccinations to first responders and anyone 65 and up in Georgia, the system was overwhelmed.

Nancy Malone and her husband were lucky enough to get the shot before appointments filled up.

“We were able to get both of us vaccinated but my heart goes out and I’m sorry my heart goes out to the people who can’t get it,” said Malone.

Malone and her husband are expected to get the second shot on February 11.

“I’m concerned for us that the second dose won’t be available when we’re scheduled for it,” said Malone.

The Coastal Health District said the health departments in all eight counties that it serves have enough requests to schedule appointments through February and, in some cases, into March.

“We have always known that public health itself does not have either the brick and mortar structure or the personnel to vaccinate everyone in that category, so what we have counted on having other health care providers enroll to be vaccine providers as well,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, Coastal Health District Health Director.

Dr. Davis said they had to stop making appointments and gave no indication when appointment scheduling will re-open. He did acknowledge people are frustrated because the process is moving more slowly than they would like.

“Our health department staff is working hard to get thousands of people scheduled for vaccination, but we need to hit the pause button – at least for a little while – so we can manage the current volume of requests,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, Health Director for the Coastal Health District. “It is also my sincere hope that in the very near future, more providers will have the vaccine so there are more places for folks to get vaccinated.”

Between its’ two sites in Camden and one in Glynn, the Coastal Health District said Public Health officials have administered 3,279 doses, as of Wednesday. For its’ 8-county district, the health departments have given 15,965 vaccinations.

The Coastal Health District said hundreds of healthcare providers around the state of Georgia have enrolled to administer COVID-19 vaccinations, although not all have received vaccines. It listed providers in Southeast Georgia who have received the vaccine.

Over at the Southeast Georgia Health System, it’s offering vaccines in Brunswick and Kingsland based on availability and by appointment only. Since January 11th, the health system says it vaccinated about 5,200 people. An additional 750 doses will be administered Friday.

President and CEO Michael Scherneck says their goal is to provide no less than 2,500 vaccines per week as long as they receive supplies.

Right now, when you go to book an appointment online, it says to check back for more times.

“Our team members are working tirelessly to call and schedule people as quickly as we receive the vaccine, guide them through the process, and administer vaccines. It takes an incredible amount of planning and coordination to make the process as efficient as possible, and I’m very proud of them and how well it is going,” said Scherneck.

Publix is also offering the vaccine. Its’ currently only vaccinating in Camden County, but the website shows it’s also fully booked up.

The Coastal Health District is asking for doctors, nurses, and pharmacists as well as nonmedical volunteers to help with the rollout. You can register online.

Georgians with questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and the state’s distribution plan for them can call the hotline: 888-357-0169

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