Ga. sanction against Elbert County doctors’ office that vaccinated teachers is reduced

Elbert County High School teacher Richard Andrews received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Tina Mewborne, LPN, as his wife and teacher Tonya Andrews (background) looked at the Medical Center of Elberton on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.  (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Elbert County High School teacher Richard Andrews received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Tina Mewborne, LPN, as his wife and teacher Tonya Andrews (background) looked at the Medical Center of Elberton on Wednesday, January 27, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The punishment against a northeast Georgia doctors’ office that vaccinated teachers against COVID-19 in January has been reduced significantly.

The Georgia Department of Public Health agreed to cut the 6-month suspension against The Medical Center of Elberton by more than four months, allowing vaccinations there to resume in mid-March.

“We feel like this is a win for our community,” Brooke McDowell, the administrator of the center, said Monday.

The center had been the main vaccine provider in Elbert County, a rural community along the South Carolina state line, when it was sanctioned on Jan. 27. The state health agency suspended vaccine shipments to the center, saying it had violated state rules by vaccinating teachers and other school employees ahead of the state’s modified schedule.

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The center said it began dosing school employees only after completing vaccinations of all willing members of what was then Georgia’s first wave of recipients. Then, on Jan. 11, after the center says it started vaccinating school workers, Gov. Brian Kemp approved expanding the first group to people aged 65-74, moving them ahead of teachers.

Kemp’s office has said vaccinating Georgia’s 65-plus population is a priority because of their increased vulnerability to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises that teachers be vaccinated before people aged 65-74, but says teacher vaccinations are not a requirement for schools to operate in person.

Georgia teachers are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine, though state officials are expected to announce details soon about expanding eligibility to include more people.

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The amended suspension was issued to the medical center in a letter dated Thursday.

Under recently published state rules, providers will receive a 45-day suspension the first time they are found to have vaccinated someone not yet eligible; they will be terminated from the vaccination program for a second offense. Those rules describe other types of violations and penalties, such as a warning followed by a two-week moratorium on vaccine shipments for a first then second offense of inoculating someone who neither lives nor works in Georgia.

The new agreement requires the medical center to waive its right to sue in connection with the vaccination program, the suspension and the state seizure of vaccine on Feb. 2.

The state public health agency offered no comment about the reduced suspension. McDowell, whose center was featured in national news coverage after the suspension, said she was thankful for “support” from people across the state and the country.

McDowell said the center expects to resume vaccinations of eligible people on March 16.

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