A second COVID-19 vaccine heading to Georgia

With the number of coronavirus infections surging and some hospitals overwhelmed, a second COVID-19 vaccination is due to arrive in Georgia by Wednesday at the latest.

The state will receive 174,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine over the coming days, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The vaccine on Friday became the second granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. One developed by Pfizer-BioNTech was given the green light earlier this month.

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Both vaccines use what’s called messenger RNA to train the immune system to recognize and fight COVID-19. Studies have shown both are about 95% effective and can produce similar short-term side effects. Both also require two shots.

But the storage requirements for the two are different. And that’s where the Moderna vaccine may have an edge: Unlike Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, the Moderna vaccine does not have to be stored at minus 70°C, but can tolerate a much warmer minus 20°C, which is standard for most hospital and pharmacy freezers.

The Moderna shipments will be sent directly to providers, according to DPH. Department spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said some facilities requested Moderna because of the easier storage and handling. Additionally, Moderna will ship a minimum of 100 doses, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s minimum is set at 975 doses.

The state’s first allotment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 84,000 and a second of about 60,000 doses is scheduled to arrive this week.

Georgia was among several states last week that said it received fewer allotments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than anticipated. U.S. Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the operation’s chief operations officer and who’s leading the federal government’s vaccine distribution effort, told reporters Monday that “the forecasted number was one (number). The actual allocation was another. At the end of the day, it was a fair and equitable distribution across the whole country.”

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

In the second allotment from Pfizer-BioNTech, 20,000 doses are earmarked for long-term care facilities. Nydam said the plan is for the vaccinations at nursing homes to begin on Dec. 28. CVS and Walgreens have contracted with the federal government to administer those vaccines.

Also Monday, DPH launched a vaccine dashboard, which, similar to the coronavirus dashboard will track the number of providers enrolled to give vaccines, as well as the number of vaccines requested and number of vaccines administered. The link to the vaccine dashboard is on the homepage of the DPH website.

The ramp-up for vaccinations comes at an especially dark time. Sixteen hospitals recently reported that their intensive care units were so full that they couldn’t accept more ICU patients. Still, more were turning away ambulances from their emergency rooms.

The Georgia Health Department on Monday reported 3,120 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 410 cases that were positive by a rapid antigen test, which is considered less accurate. Monday’s total was considerably lower than Friday’s, but the cases often lag from testing sites over the weekend. A jump in the numbers is expected over the next day or two.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized climbed to 3,516 Monday.

Credit: rhorne@ajc.com

Credit: rhorne@ajc.com

The trajectory has been staggering. After a summer peak, the number of new cases, hospitalizations and positivity rate had been steadily falling. But in early October, the trend line took an upward turn, and the number of new infections have been soaring since.

For now, vaccine shots have been limited to health care workers, people living and working in long-term care facilities and some federal elected officials.

There are about 537,000 health care workers in Georgia, according to the state health department. As of Monday, 1,258 vaccines had been administered to them. None has reported adverse effects from the vaccine, the department said.

Doses were also sent to several federal agencies, including the Veterans Health Administration. Last week, the VA complex in Augusta was among 37 nationwide that received doses. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will begin vaccinating workers at more sites around the country, including at the Atlanta VA in Decatur and the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin.

Federal Operation Warp Speed officials said they envision more Americans being able to get vaccinated by late February or early March.

Meanwhile, nearly three dozen Savannah Fire Department workers, who are first responders, got vaccinated Monday morning.

Assistant Chief Elzie Kitchen said the workers respond to medical emergencies.

“It’s important to (the workers) and important to the citizens and their families to mitigate the spread and get vaccinated,” Kitchen said.

Kitchen was among those who received a shot. Two of his sons tested positive for COVID-19. They had minor symptoms and recovered. Some family members are hesitant about being vaccinated, so he’s sharing information about the experience with them to increase their comfort level.

“I believe in the scientists, and I believe in the work that they’ve done,” he said.