Elbert County doctors’ office loses appeal of state suspension of COVID-19 vaccine doses

Elbert County High School teacher Kyle Ashworth receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Tina Mewborne, LPN, at the Medical Center of Elberton on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. Georgia has not opened COVID-19 vaccination to teachers yet, but a small school district east of Athens still managed to offer shots to any employee who wanted them. Elbert County Superintendent Jon Jarvis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sees his teachers, bus drivers and other employees as "essential" personnel who should be prioritized for vaccination. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Elbert County High School teacher Kyle Ashworth receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Tina Mewborne, LPN, at the Medical Center of Elberton on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. Georgia has not opened COVID-19 vaccination to teachers yet, but a small school district east of Athens still managed to offer shots to any employee who wanted them. Elbert County Superintendent Jon Jarvis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sees his teachers, bus drivers and other employees as "essential" personnel who should be prioritized for vaccination. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A northeast Georgia doctors’ office that lost access to COVID-19 vaccine after inoculating teachers ahead of the state’s schedule was informed Friday that its appeal of the sanction had been denied.

“Because The Medical Center of Elberton violated a critical component of the provider agreement, DPH is not able to rescind the suspension from the COVID Vaccine Program,” said a letter to the center from state health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey.

The center is the main vaccine provider in a county of 20,000 people, so the sanction means many residents may be unable to get vaccinated until July 27, when the suspension ends.

Earlier this week, the state suspended vaccine shipments to the center for six months because it had immunized employees of the Elbert County School District who were not yet part of the state-approved vaccination group.

Toomey wrote that she sent all physicians and physician assistants licensed in Georgia a letter identifying which populations were eligible for vaccination. On Jan. 11, the state expanded eligibility to adults aged 65 and over, law enforcement and fire personnel. Previously, only health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities were eligible.

ExploreGa. community pays price after moving teachers ahead in vaccination line

Brooke McDowell, the administrator of the center, said they want to appeal again because the first appeal did not include all the relevant information about the timing of the teacher vaccinations. She said health care workers and others who were initially part of the first wave of vaccinations had already had an opportunity to get their shots before the center began vaccinating school employees.

Elbert County Attorney Bill Daughtry said the county commission asked him to investigate, and he said the county may intervene on the center’s behalf in a second appeal. He said the center started vaccinating school employees before the guidelines were updated to make it clear that teachers were to be vaccinated later.

Elbert County High School teacher Edna Eberhardt looks at her updated COVID vaccine certification card after she received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Tina Mewborne (center), LPN, at the Medical Center Of Elberton on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. Georgia has not opened COVID-19 vaccination to teachers yet, but a small school district east of Athens still managed to offer shots to any employee who wanted them. Elbert County Superintendent Jon Jarvis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sees his teachers, bus drivers and other employees as "essential" personnel who should be prioritized for vaccination. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Elbert County High School teacher Edna Eberhardt looks at her updated COVID vaccine certification card after she received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Tina Mewborne (center), LPN, at the Medical Center Of Elberton on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. Georgia has not opened COVID-19 vaccination to teachers yet, but a small school district east of Athens still managed to offer shots to any employee who wanted them. Elbert County Superintendent Jon Jarvis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he sees his teachers, bus drivers and other employees as "essential" personnel who should be prioritized for vaccination. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“It was not a defiant act. It was an act in good faith,” he said. Injections of school employees after the guidelines were amended were only to provide the follow-up doses required for full effectiveness, he said. Though the second doses violated the guidance, it would have been “a waste” not to give them and complete the inoculation process, he said.

Toomey’s letter said her agency will ensure that five other vaccine providers in Elbert County have sufficient doses to continue vaccinating residents there, but Daughtry said no other facility in town has the capacity to inoculate at the pace that the center does, with most of them administering doses just one day a week.

State Rep. Rob Leverett, R-Elberton, issued a statement Friday saying he was concerned about the suspension “like all of my fellow Elbert Countians,” calling it “grossly unfair” and “unnecessarily harmful” to residents in and around the county. He said he was working with the governor’s office to “resolve” the situation “and not jeopardize the accessibility of the vaccine” to his community.

Read the full letter from the Georgia Department of Public Health:

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