Kemp poised to add teachers to COVID vaccine priority list

    Gov. Brian Kemp gave an update on the state's vaccine rollout at Atlanta's Delta Flight Museum Wednesday while airport employees waited to be vaccinated. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    Georgia is poised to set a timeline for vaccinating teachers and other essential workers, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday at Atlanta’s Delta Flight Museum, one of the state’s four mass vaccination sites that launched this week.

    Hours after touring the College Park vaccination site, the governor’s office announced he’ll hold a Thursday afternoon press conference with state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. 

    “When we open up, our goal is to get people back to normal,” Kemp said. “We know that educators play a big part in that, and to get all our schools open versus just part of them, that will allow the full workforce to go back. We also have a lot of medically fragile people, other critical employees, so we’re considering all those things right now, but hopefully that will be sooner rather than later, potentially, maybe even as early as Thursday.”

    So far, people 65 and older, first responders, medical workers and long-term care residents and staff were eligible for the shots since the vaccine’s mid-December arrival in Georgia.

    A debate over whether to vaccinate teachers immediately has been boiling over in Georgia since the vaccine arrived, but Kemp has refused to expand eligibility, citing the fact that Georgia seniors account for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in the state.

    But the federal government has been steadily increasing weekly vaccine shipments to Georgia, and production is expected to increase in the coming weeks, manufacturers told Congress Tuesday.

    Demand still vastly outpaces supply, but the state is ready to expand capacity at its existing sites and open new sites as soon as possible, Kemp said.

    “We really just need more vaccines,” Kemp said. “I know y’all have probably heard me say that before, but that is the fact.”

    As Kemp spoke, a trickle of vaccine-eligible airport workers walked in the building and sat in a makeshift waiting area in the shadow of a Boeing 767 airliner. Out in the museum’s parking lot, eligible members of the public pulled up to their appointments and were vaccinated in their cars.

    Georgians are beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccines at mass vaccination sites like the one at Atlanta’s Delta Flight Museum. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

    The state’s four mass vaccination sites in Atlanta, Macon, Habersham County and Albany have given about 8,000 doses combined this week.

    People at the Atlanta site waited an average of five minutes between their arrival and their vaccine, Kemp said.

    The state is likely to fall short of its first-week goal of 22,000 doses, said Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Stallings, but that has more to do with a lack of patients at the Albany location than a lack of capacity.

    At the start of the week, the Albany location had about 200 appointments scheduled while the other three were close to their full capacity of 1,100 shots per day.

    “Yesterday, we bumped up our allocation here because Albany didn’t have the turnout,” Stallings said. “We were more worried about shots in arms than shots in the garbage, and we’re certainly not gonna let shots sit on the shelf, so we moved that allocation up here, we bumped over 2,000 vaccines yesterday afternoon, so we’re very pleased with where we’re at.”

    Despite the start of the vaccine rollout, the virus is continuing to spread and kill in Georgia. As of Wednesday evening, the seven-day average of deaths in Georgia was 94.1. The record of 102.1 average deaths was set Feb. 12.

    There have been more than 810,000 confirmed cases in Georgia, and 14,882 people have died.

    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.