White House to provide more vaccine doses at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

News comes as Georgia records first case of COVID variant from South Africa
January 13, 2021 Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium was illuminated in the early morning fog as Atlantans had a cold morning start to the day on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)



January 13, 2021 Atlanta: Mercedes-Benz Stadium was illuminated in the early morning fog as Atlantans had a cold morning start to the day on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Update: Vaccine appointment slots open at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts got a major boost Friday as the White House announced plans to soon administer 42,000 doses a week at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta.

The site, which is expected to be up and running in the next two weeks, was selected to help reach hard-hit, high-risk communities, federal officials said. It will operate seven days a week for an eight-week period, receiving direct vaccine allocation through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Those doses are on top of the state’s regular allocation of vaccines.

State and local officials applauded the announcement, which came as a new threat was detected in Georgia.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned Friday that the state has confirmed its first case of the coronavirus variant that emerged in South Africa. The case was detected in Henry County.

The highly contagious coronavirus variant originally discovered in the United Kingdom also continues to spread in the state, with the number of confirmed cases swelling to 155 as of Friday, according to the state Department of Public Health (DPH).

Georgia is in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible before the worrisome variants take hold or new variants emerge as the virus continues to spread. Scientists are especially worried about the variant from South Africa because it may spread more easily, dodge a person’s immune system and affect how well vaccines work.

To help get more people vaccinated, the Biden administration last month began partnering with some states to set up community vaccination centers at venues in places with large populations vulnerable to the disease.

On Friday, in addition to announcing the Georgia site, federal officials said a vaccination site would be set up at Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Both of these sites sit in neighborhoods hit hard by the pandemic and are well known in the community,” Andy Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor for COVID-19 Response, told reporters.

Gov. Brian Kemp has repeatedly talked about demand for the vaccine being greater than supply. Many Georgians have had trouble setting up appointments as metro Atlanta health departments have said they do not have enough vaccine.

In making the announcement, White House officials did not include details such as how people will be able to set up appointments or if the eligibility criteria will be different from the state’s current guidelines.

Representatives from FEMA, Fulton County, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, DPH and other supporting partners were scheduled to meet Friday to develop the plans for site setup and operations.

Federal officials will primarily be in charge of the site’s operations. Vaccination efforts at the stadium have been organized by local officials.

DeKalb County Board of Health medical worker Lisa Bridges administers a COVID-19 vaccination shot during a DeKalb County Board of Health and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. COVID-19 vaccination event at the Lou Walker Senior Center in Stonecrest on Feb. 10. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Fulton County’s proximity to other counties, such as Clayton and DeKalb, with large numbers of residents the federal government describes as socially vulnerable, made it an ideal location, White House officials said.

The per capita vaccination rate in Clayton and DeKalb is lower than most counties, state data show.

Another reason the stadium was chosen is its close access to public transportation. Federal officials noted more than 10% of Fulton residents do not have a vehicle, which has created a challenge for many who want to get vaccinated but have no way to get to a vaccination site.

Georgia’s vaccination efforts have shown mixed results. Cases and deaths among residents at long-term care residents plunged in February, which experts attribute largely to vaccination efforts. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, though, shows Georgia has the lowest per capita vaccination rate of any state.

State data also show non-white Georgians have been vaccinated at disproportionately low rates, although the race is unknown for more than 8% of vaccine recipients. State and local leaders have been criticized for not doing enough to reach out to underserved and communities of color.

DPH officials late last month announced the creation of a council to ensure equity in COVID-19 vaccination distribution and administration, and improve outreach and communication within Georgia communities most affected by COVID-19.

Many Georgians are still hesitant to get the vaccine, an issue state leaders have tried to address through meetings with community organizations, business leaders, educators and faith-based groups.

The Rev. Gerald Durley, a longtime leader of Concerned Black Clergy, a group involved in vaccination outreach in the Atlanta area and addressing hesitancy issues, said the additional doses coming to the stadium will be needed.

“I think it’s absolutely essential,” Durley said.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.