For The Record

Georgia sees slight boost in vaccine capacity, but supplies still lag

By: - February 3, 2021 12:51 pm

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to reporters as people line up to be vaccinated at Cobb County’s Jim R. Miller Park on Wednesday, Feb. 3. Georgia still lacks the vaccine supply needed to match the demand – and that is not likely to change anytime soon. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

A little over a year ago, the Jim R. Miller Park in Cobb County was full of carnival rides and food stands. Today, a line of cars weaves a winding path through hundreds of orange cones into what is normally an equestrian center but where health care workers and people over the age of 65 now receive COVID-19 shots.

A steady stream of cars drove through Wednesday morning as Gov. Brian Kemp toured the facility with Dr. Janet Memark, head of Cobb and Douglas Public Health, Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey and other officials. But the line did not come close to filling up the large parking lot as demand still far outstretches the supply of the vaccine available. 

Workers at the vaccination site have the capacity to process 1,200 cars per day, Memark said, and she has plans to add more lanes and health care workers to boost capacity to 2,000 as soon as more vaccines are available.

That day is still a ways off, Kemp said, but the state is working to turn existing sites into mass vaccination sites as soon as a higher quantity of doses is available in Georgia.

“If we had more supply right now, that lane that’s empty could be full of cars, but it’s not, because we just don’t have the vaccines,” the governor said. “You can see how efficient this operation is, how smoothly it’s going, and in our tour today, it was made very cognizant to us, and I heard the same thing yesterday, if you get the supply, you just add another lane with the existing infrastructure that you have, maybe take a few more people, but the concept is exactly the same, and that’s what the state is preparing for.”

Starting next week, the state’s weekly allotment will increase from about 146,000 per week to about 154,000, thanks to efforts from the White House, Kemp said.

“The Biden administration announced that one million doses will be allocated to pharmacies across the country, and while we do not know how many of those will end up in individual pharmacies in the Peach State, we know one thing: It’s not going to change our overall supply shortage. We’re glad to have it, but we realize that is going to be insignificant from the incredible demand that we have.”

The state recently administered its 1 millionth vaccine, and the 500,000th Georgia senior is set to receive their first dose Wednesday evening. Those are significant milestones, Kemp said, but he added there is much work to be done, including vaccinating 1.3 million seniors.

Vaccination sites across the state are also preparing to ramp up capacity as soon as possible, Toomey said.

“What you’re seeing here is exemplary, but also exemplary of what is happening throughout the state,” Toomey said while standing at the Cobb County site Wednesday. “Many of our public health districts have set up similar sites, and like you heard today, are capable of doing many more vaccines daily when that supply is available.”

Toomey also warned of the prevalence of mutated COVID strains, saying the state’s limited capacity to detect them means they are likely spreading around the state.

While the officials spoke, some of the newly-vaccinated drivers waved to the news cameras or flashed a  thumbs up.

Memark said she is hoping to see more smiling faces soon as the supply of the existing Moderna and Pfizer vaccines increases and new AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines roll out.

“I’ve worked here a few times, and this is the best thing that I get to do. They are so happy and they are so grateful, and you can see the light and hope in their eyes, because they feel like they’ll get their lives back soon,” she said.  

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.