Georgia awarded nearly $96 million to expand vaccine programs

Dr. Anita Shetty (from left) vaccinates Doris Lucas with a Pfizer vaccine while Dr. Steve Budnick prepares to vaccinate Toni Hawkins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the largest Community Vaccination Center in the Southeast serving an average of 42,000 people a week.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Dr. Anita Shetty (from left) vaccinates Doris Lucas with a Pfizer vaccine while Dr. Steve Budnick prepares to vaccinate Toni Hawkins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the largest Community Vaccination Center in the Southeast serving an average of 42,000 people a week. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

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

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded Georgia nearly $96 million to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in underserved communities, the agency announced this morning.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority communities, and these same communities often have higher barriers to clear to gain access to health care and vaccines. To try to overcome those, three-fourths of the funding must go to specific efforts to “increase vaccine access, acceptance and uptake among racial and ethnic minority communities.”

Sixty percent of the funds must also support local health departments, community health centers and community-based organizations.

“We are doing everything we can to expand access to vaccinations,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky said in a news release. “Millions of Americans are getting vaccinated every day, but we need to ensure that we are reaching those in the communities hit hardest by this pandemic. This investment will support state and local health departments and community-based organizations as they work on the frontlines to increase vaccine access, acceptance, and uptake.”

The award is part of $3 billion in funding CDC is granting to 64 jurisdictions nationwide to bolster broad-based vaccination efforts.

The funding comes from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, the federal stimulus and pandemic recovery legislation narrowly approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden last month.

Georgia recently surpassed 4 million administered vaccine doses, and CDC data show 33.4% of Georgia’s adult population has received at least one dose. But the state still ranks near the bottom nationally in the rate of vaccine administration.

To reach more Georgians, the federal government in March opened a community mass vaccination center at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, a site selected to help reach hard-hit, high-risk communities. The center is among more than two dozen such sites established or announced nationwide.

The state also recently expanded vaccine eligibility to include all persons 16 and older.

Gov. Brian Kemp and other state leaders also have made minority outreach a top priority, engaging community groups and faith leaders in efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccines in minority communities. The state has yet to release detailed race and ethnicity data for vaccine recipients, however.

In announcing the new grant, the CDC said potential uses of the funds include training trusted community members for door-to-door canvassing to promote vaccines and help residents make appointments. The funds might also be used hire health workers to provide “culturally competent bilingual health outreach” to educate the public and help people obtain free COVID-19 vaccines.

During a media briefing on Monday, Walensky said the CDC remains concerned about rising cases nationally of the coronavirus. She said people should continue wearing masks, practicing physical distancing and get their vaccine when eligible.

The rise in cases is blamed in part on more infectious strains of the virus, including the variant first detected in the United Kingdom. Georgia has reported 592 cases of that variant.