Georgia’s COVID vaccine shortage persists, teachers press for access

    It could be months before Georgia's allotment of COVID-19 vaccines increases, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said Tuesday. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and positive test rate are trending downward, but that’s not an all-clear signal, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a Capitol press conference Tuesday.

    “Our hospitals, as I mentioned last week, cannot bear another surge of COVID-19 cases. And with more deaths being reported each today, I continue to ask Georgians to do the right thing. As we have mentioned many times, the science is very clear. Keeping your distance, wearing a mask and washing your hands will continue to help slow the spread of the virus.”

    And Georgians pinning their hopes on the vaccine to help restore normalcy will need to be patient because the state does not expect to see an increase in its weekly allotment of 120,000 vaccines for at least the next few weeks, he said.

    That means it will be some time before critical workers like teachers, grocery store employees and corrections officers are added to the list of eligible recipients. Only health care workers, first responders, people 65 and over and their caregivers can now get the shot in Georgia.

    Teachers are pressing for educators to be eligible for the vaccine now following a string of COVID-19 related deaths among educators in recent weeks.

    “I can assure everyone watching today that I hear these concerns and I share your hope that we can vaccinate these deserving Georgians soon,” he said. “The truth is we do not yet have enough vaccines for those most at risk of serious complications or death from this virus.

    Nearly 675,000 vaccines were administered in Georgia as of Monday evening, according to the state Department of Public Health. Nearly 1.2 million have been shipped, and more than 2 million Georgians are eligible. It could be months before Georgia starts getting larger shipments, said Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.

    “Our allocation really is not very large for a state of our size, with a population of 11 million,” she said. “Our allocation is based on total population, but there’s very little vaccine. I was on a call with CDC and the new administration over the weekend and was told that it may be as late as April before the vaccine will be ramped up to the point that we’ll get more doses. We’re hoping it will be sooner. We certainly will use it as soon as it’s ready.”

    Another distribution hurdle is that rural health care workers are more reluctant to get the vaccine than expected. The vaccine is safe and effective, Toomey said, and misinformation about it could be putting lives at risk.

    “We have not seen any major complication from the vaccine,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of rumors going around that there may have been individuals who died from the vaccine, I heard 20 or more, and that’s absolutely not the case,” she said.

    Toomey specifically addressed rumors that the COVID-19 vaccine played a role in the death of baseball giant Hank Aaron, calling them baseless and dangerous.

    “There is some hesitancy still that we’re trying to overcome, and it’s that kind of rumor that may dissuade some of the most vulnerable people from being vaccinated,” she said.

    Ross Williams
    Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. 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. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.