By REBECCA HAZEN
Georgia’s Northwest Health District is beginning to receive limited quantities of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, and giving out vaccinations to people in the first phase group.
Logan Boss, Public Information Officer for Georgia Department of Health’s Northwest Health District, noted that all of the states are handling the vaccines differently.
“Tennessee, Alabama and here in Georgia, we have our own process. And it varies from health district to health district, too,” Boss said.
Which vaccine each area gets is dependent, too. Currently there are two vaccines, produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
“For instance, our neighboring Dalton based public health district will receive some of the Pfizer vaccine because they have the cold storage. We don’t in our district, and we waited until the Moderna vaccine became available, which we are now beginning to get,” Boss explained.
So far, the Moderna vaccine has been sent out in limited quantities to the Northwest Health District, which includes Dade County, according to Boss. There are 10 counties in the district. Out of those, nine counties have received the vaccine as of Monday, Dec. 28, not including Walker County.
Nationally and state wide, individuals in phase 1a are beginning to be vaccinated. Those in phase 1a include healthcare personnel and residents of long term care facilities.
Long term care facilities can be nursing homes or assisted living facilities. The vaccines for those places are being handled by a program that was set up for some of the large retail pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, to work directly with those facilities.
“However, if we are contacted by one that has not been in contact with one of those pharmacies, we will work with them as needed,” Boss said.
According to Boss, a lot of healthcare providers signed up as a self-provider, so they were sent the vaccines directly.
“Most of our hospitals fall in that category. What we are trying to do is get vaccines to those other healthcare providers in phase 1a that were not sent vaccines directly, because they did not sign up to be eligible to get it directly, or because they did not qualify,” Boss said. “We are working with smaller healthcare providers to get them vaccinated as the supply increases, which it is slowly doing.”
Healthcare providers can still sign up to receive the vaccine at dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.
“We monitor those and as more vaccines become available, we contact the health department in that county to contact those people. It is based on when they signed up,” Boss explained.
In Phase 1b essential frontline workers will be eligible to receive the vaccine. Frontline workers include firefighters, police officers, food and agricultural workers, and postal workers. People 75 and older will also be able to get a vaccine in this phase.
Phase 1c includes people ages 65 to 74 and people ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.
More detailed information about who is included in each phase can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov.
“I stress that the vaccine is still limited right now,” Boss said. “The general public is not yet eligible for a vaccine. I know a lot of people are concerned about that. As vaccine availability increases, vaccine recommendations will expand to more groups. As long as vaccine supply remains limited, we are going by these phase guidelines.”
According to a press release that was released on Dec. 30, Governor Brian Kemp and Commissioner Kathleen Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., announced plans to add adults aged 65 and older, law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders to the current group of individuals eligible to receive the vaccine.
According to Hamilton County Health Administrator Becky Barnes, Dade County residents can only receive the vaccine in Chattanooga if they are “actively working in Hamilton County and meet the current phase criteria.”
Boss notes that it will probably be late spring or early summer before there will be plenty of vaccines readily available to the general public.
Even when vaccines are available to all, Boss said that there will still be concerns about vaccines and vaccine refusal.
“To give you a comparison, it’s flu season. In an average year, about half of the recommended U.S. population gets a flu shot,” Boss said. “How many people will step up to actually get the COVID-19 vaccines?”
According to Boss, the current COVID-19 situation in northwest Georgia is “bad.”
“We currently have wide spread community transmission. We have alarmingly high positivity case rates. We are very concerned right now about the very high ICU capacity rates,” Boss said. “Our big concern was to try to not overwhelm our healthcare systems. Our ICU units, we have one region in our district that is at 100 percent capacity. The other two are both up over 95 percent. That could be for non–COVID related health problems, but certainly COVID-19 is a large portion of that.”