Vaccine demand holds steady in DeKalb despite omicron threat

Officials from DeKalb County and MARTA unveiled Thursday a bus wrapped with a pro-vaccine message. SPECIAL PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Officials from DeKalb County and MARTA unveiled Thursday a bus wrapped with a pro-vaccine message. SPECIAL PHOTO

As the first cases of COVID-19′s omicron variant pop up in Georgia, a core metro Atlanta county is trying to get more people immunized.

Eric Nickens, the spokesman for the DeKalb County Board of Health, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they haven’t seen a drastic increase in vaccine demand from residents.

While he said omicron presents an additional threat, DeKalb remains focused on current COVID-19 transmission throughout the county, which is still spurred by the delta variant.

“We’re still in the same vigilant mode,” Nickens said. “We’re in action now even though there’s a new variant; we’re still dealing with the existing variants. So our strategy has not changed.”

So far, the Georgia Department of Public Health has identified three omicron cases in the state. The most recent case, which was announced Thursday, involved an unvaccinated patient in metro Atlanta with no recent international travel history, raising concerns the variant may be spreading within Georgia. The first two patients had recently traveled from South Africa, where the variant is believed to have originated.

ExploreThird omicron case found in Georgia

Nickens said each county is waiting for guidance and more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state officials. He said county leaders are in the same boat as concerned residents.

“Right now, we’re just in a holding pattern like everyone else,” Nickens said. “We’re still learning more about the new variant.”

Until they receive new recommendation, he said the DeKalb Board of Health will continue with its current strategy, which focuses on encouraging vaccination and dispelling misinformation. DeKalb’s vaccination rate of 54% is slightly ahead of the statewide rate, but it lags behind the national average of 63%.

“The more information we share with them about how everything was developed, how the vaccine works, dispelling those myths and sharing truth facts, then they’re more likely to get the vaccine,” Nickens said.

DeKalb has been one of the most aggressive counties in Georgia when it comes to offering monetary incentives to get immunized. Nearly 2,000 people received a vaccine dose — and a $100 gift card — at a county-sponsored event in Doraville on Dec. 4. The county’s board of commissioners used federal pandemic relief funds to finance the effort.

Other municipalities, such as Gwinnett County, has begun offering similar gift card incentives.

ExploreGwinnett County to offer $100 gift cards for vaccines this weekend

With generous gift cards on the table, it’s tough to tell if omicron is leading many DeKalb residents to get vaccinated at this point in the pandemic, when vaccine doses are in great supply. Nickens said the county has had no recent issues providing standard doses or booster shots.

DeKalb offers vaccinations at the Doraville MARTA station, the county’s regional health centers and a few mobile medical units. For now, Nickens said the county won’t revisit reopening more mass vaccination sites unless demand starkly increases.

“There are increased opportunities for people to get vaccinated primarily where they are instead of having to come to us,” he said. “We’re trying to be cognizant of meeting people where they are.”

For more information on getting vaccinated in DeKalb, visit dekalbhealth.net.

Combined ShapeCaption
The rate of death from COVID-19 is lower in metro Atlanta than in many other parts of the state, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health on Dec. 7, 2021.

Credit: Georgia Department of Public Health

The rate of death from COVID-19 is lower in metro Atlanta than in many other parts of the state, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health on Dec. 7, 2021.

Credit: Georgia Department of Public Health

Combined ShapeCaption
The rate of death from COVID-19 is lower in metro Atlanta than in many other parts of the state, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health on Dec. 7, 2021.

Credit: Georgia Department of Public Health

Credit: Georgia Department of Public Health