Georgia gears up to offer COVID-19 vaccine to anyone 16 and up

Huge lines outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta on 1st day of mass vaccination site
Caption
Huge lines outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta on 1st day of mass vaccination site

Credit: Unlisted

Credit: Unlisted

The success of the state’s campaign may hinge on getting young adults to take the shots

Sherri Scott feels a deep sense of relief that her two sons, 17 and 19, are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. She didn’t expect this day would come until closer to the end of the year.

“I feel like the sun is peeking through the clouds,” said Scott of Atlanta.

Starting Thursday, Georgia is opening its vaccination doors wide, allowing anyone 16 years old or above to receive a vaccination. Only Alaska, Arizona, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia have done that so far, though some 30 other states have set dates for when all adults can get the vaccines.

Several experts say the moves are coming at a critical time, noting that states are racing to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the spread of new, more dangerous variants of the virus gets to them first. The state recently detected its first case of a particularly worrisome variant first found in Brazil, and health officials have reported dozens of other cases of variants that originated in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Getting shots in the arms of youth may be a powerful way to combat the spread, the experts say.

ExploreHow to get a COVID vaccine in metro Atlanta

032421 Atlanta: U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Stewart help some of the elderly through the process of getting their first vaccination at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the state’s largest Community Vaccination Center on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Atlanta.  “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
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032421 Atlanta: U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Stewart help some of the elderly through the process of getting their first vaccination at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the state’s largest Community Vaccination Center on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

According to a study in January from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the highest rates of infection ever since last June have consistently been among those aged 18 to 24. Even though those young adults are far less likely to suffer themselves from severe effects of the COVID-19, their high rates of infection may make them a more dangerous group to society at large if they circulate and infect more vulnerable people.

Experts noted in particular recent scenes of young adults, many maskless, crowding party spaces in Miami Beach and at other spring break destinations.

Dr. Cecil Bennett, the medical director of a primary care center in Newnan with a patient, Walter Eidson. 
CONTRIBUTED
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Dr. Cecil Bennett, the medical director of a primary care center in Newnan with a patient, Walter Eidson. CONTRIBUTED

Dr. Cecil Bennett, medical director of a primary care center in Newnan, and an adjunct professor at Morehouse School of Medicine’s Family Medicine Program, said while it was understandable Georgia started the vaccine rollout by vaccinating older adults and the most vulnerable residents, followed by teachers, he said it now makes sense to open it up to everyone 16 and over.

He called Gov. Brian Kemp’s step approach to expand eligibility “spot on in my opinion.”

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Overcoming barriers

Still, challenges remain in the race to beat the virus, as reflected in the state’s dismal overall ranking, 49th out of 50 states, for the portion of the overall population that is vaccinated.

DeKalb County Board of Health spokesman Eric Nickens said appointments are all booked this week, and it can’t expand the number of appointments available, at least not immediately. The county’s sites currently administer about 420 doses a day, he said, and while health officials anticipate getting an increase, they don’t know by how much and may not know until the supplies actually arrive.

“Once we actually receive additional vaccine, only then will we be able to make adjustments to accommodate demand,” he said.

03/15/2021 —Doraville, Georgia — Atlanta resident Bethany Baer, 34, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from Nurse Devin Adkins at a DeKalb Board of Health COVID-19 vaccination site located at the Doraville MARTA transit station in Doraville, Monday, March 15, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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03/15/2021 —Doraville, Georgia — Atlanta resident Bethany Baer, 34, receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot from Nurse Devin Adkins at a DeKalb Board of Health COVID-19 vaccination site located at the Doraville MARTA transit station in Doraville, Monday, March 15, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Georgia also has struggled with technology and registration systems and with getting vaccines to vulnerable populations.

Bennett said his practice, while approved to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, is still waiting for its first shipment. He said he doesn’t know of a single primary care practice that has the vaccine to administer.

“I have seniors call me every day asking me if I have the vaccine yet,” Bennett said.

The registration systems have made it hard for some to get vaccine appointments, he said.

“I’m really, really not happy with the current online system for setting up an appointment for the vaccine, and I have a number of seniors I can tell you if they don’t have a loved one help them set it up, there is zero chance of them getting the vaccine,” he said.

That gets to another critical issue with the rollout now, experts said. Opening up vaccination to all comers will only go so far if the state doesn’t do outreach to populations that are hesitant or having difficulty registering online.

For that, they need primary caregivers like Bennett to have vaccine supplies and advise patients, with whom they have a personal relationship. “In my practice, I can tell you 40% of my patients are not looking forward to getting the vaccine, for whatever reason,” he said.

Outreach efforts also may be needed to persuade healthy young adults to bare their arms for the shots.

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08/17/2020 - Kennesaw, Georgia - Kennesaw State University Special Projects Curator in the Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books, James Newberry (left), helps Kennesaw State University freshman Justin DeSousa (right) during the first day of classes at Kennesaw State University's main campus in Kennesaw, Monday, August 17, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Caption
08/17/2020 - Kennesaw, Georgia - Kennesaw State University Special Projects Curator in the Department of Museums, Archives, and Rare Books, James Newberry (left), helps Kennesaw State University freshman Justin DeSousa (right) during the first day of classes at Kennesaw State University's main campus in Kennesaw, Monday, August 17, 2020. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Kennesaw State University senior Taliyah Henderson, 20, said friends have questions such as if the vaccine is effective against variants. Henderson, who is part of a group on campus that hands out face masks, hand sanitizer and information about places to get tested for COVID-19, has had some of the same questions, but plans to get the vaccine.

“We’ve advanced (with vaccine technology), but sometimes we wonder if it’s come out too quick,” Henderson said.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Lisa Herring told reporters Wednesday the district “started the conversation and the effort of making plans” to encourage vaccines among older high school students who will soon be eligible.

032421 Atlanta: — MASS TEACHER VACCINATION — APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring delivers her remarks during the APS mass teacher vaccination featuring approximately 1,200 Atlanta Public Schools (APS) teachers and staff members receiving the first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Atlanta.  “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
032421 Atlanta: — MASS TEACHER VACCINATION — APS Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring delivers her remarks during the APS mass teacher vaccination featuring approximately 1,200 Atlanta Public Schools (APS) teachers and staff members receiving the first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday, March 24, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Several area universities also worked Wednesday to prepare for students who want to get vaccinated.

University of Georgia leaders emailed students and employees Wednesday explaining how they can sign up for an appointment. The university has been administering doses to people on campus eligible to get the vaccine and said nearly 1,800 have received both doses.

UGA said it would prioritize vaccinations for students and employees with comorbidities.

Georgia Tech said Wednesday it has received additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is ready to administer more doses. The school is offering second shots to those on campus who were vaccinated elsewhere.

Authorities are also working to make it easier for other Georgians to secure vaccine appointments. That’s been a particular challenge in the Atlanta metro area.

But on Wednesday, a federally supported mass vaccination center launched at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The center, which offers evening and weekend hours, can administer 6,000 shots a day.

A long, fast-moving line of people waited Wednesday to get their shots. The wait was typically about 30 minutes.

Among the young people in line was Clayton County resident Allison Barham.

“It’s a sigh of relief,” Barham, 27, said of getting her first shot.

Staff writer Vanessa McCray contributed to this report.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

All Georgians 16 and over are eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine as of Thursday. Check for appointments outside your home county. Any Georgia resident can receive a vaccine at any available site in the state.

Those ages 16-17 can only get the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. Because they are minors, they will need to have a parent or guardian present to provide consent.

For appointments, check these two websites first:

Georgia Department of Public Health: https://gta-vras.powerappsportals.us

My Vaccine Georgia, operated by the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Department: https://myvaccinegeorgia.com/