Vaccine campaign dawns in Georgia; Kemp attends 2nd day of doses

The first five Georgians were inoculated in Savannah Monday night, . shortly after the public health district there received the state’s initial 5,850 doses. On Tuesday, following an address by Gov. Brian Kemp and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, . a portion of those doses then went to Candler Hospital, where nurse Maegan Paradee was the first to get the shot. The shots were given on a day when Georgia recorded one of its worst days of the pandemic, . with a combined 7,437 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 reported by the Department of Public Health. Elsewhere in Georgia, two patients at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta also received the vaccine. Some health care workers there also received the vaccine. And while nursing homes were hoping to begin vaccinations next week, Toomey said Tuesday that it would be late December or . early January before vaccinations begin

Georgia, home to 10 million, gets 84,800 of the first doses

Maegan Paradee cares for COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit at Candler Hospital in Savannah. But Tuesday, she took a break and went downstairs for something she’d been anticipating.

The 30-year-old nurse was vaccinated against the infection that has devastated the country.

“It is the first positive thing that has come out of this,” she said.

Like health authorities around the nation, officials in Georgia quickly began vaccinating health care workers as initial doses became available. The first five Georgians were inoculated in Savannah Monday night, shortly after the public health district there received the state’s initial 5,850 doses.

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On Tuesday, following an address by Gov. Brian Kemp and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, a portion of those doses then went to Candler Hospital, where Paradee was the first to get the shot.

The shots were given on a day when Georgia recorded one of its worst days of the pandemic, with a combined 7,437 new confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 reported by the Department of Public Health. The state also reported 32 net new confirmed COVID-19 deaths and an additional 24 deaths deemed as “probable.”

“It seems like it’s been bad news after bad news,” Paradee said: “Another spike is coming. More deaths, more infections. So to have something that could treat it — we’re very sick of watching people die. We really want to do anything we can to help people from dying.

“And put an end to all this.”

Elsewhere in Georgia, two patients at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta also received the vaccine — apparently the first in patients in Georgia to receive the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Some health care workers there also received the vaccine.

Tyrone Milner, an inpatient at the Spinal Care Injury Unit of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, receives a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Milner was the first patient at the medical center to receive the vaccine. (Photo courtesy of Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center)
Tyrone Milner, an inpatient at the Spinal Care Injury Unit of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, receives a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Milner was the first patient at the medical center to receive the vaccine. (Photo courtesy of Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center)

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

First responders, doctors, nurses and other health care workers in Georgia also lined up for shots or signed up for an appointment, expressing relief and excitement.

Thousands more, if not millions, sat waiting and wondering, however, as the state and federal governments apparently struggled to move shipments across the country and to deliver updates.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

In Georgia, state officials who had predicted the state would receive “hundreds of thousands” of doses in the first wave revealed Tuesday that the state was scheduled to receive 84,825 of the 2.9 million block of doses being distributed nationwide now.

Of that allotment, 16,575 doses are to come tomorrow, and the bulk on Thursday.

And while nursing homes were hoping to begin vaccinations next week, Toomey said Tuesday that it would be late December or early January before vaccinations begin. The state had just signed an agreement and given the go-ahead for CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccinations through a federal partnership program, she said.

A nurse at St. Joseph's Candler hospital carries the some of the first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to staff for the first inoculations, Tuesday in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
A nurse at St. Joseph's Candler hospital carries the some of the first shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to staff for the first inoculations, Tuesday in Savannah. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

If the second vaccine, developed by the Moderna company, is authorized this week as expected, Toomey said she expects the state will receive174,000 doses of that vaccine, perhaps as soon as next week.

“I wanted to, again, beg all Georgians to be patient,” Toomey said, “because even as we are excited about this vaccine campaign we have relatively few vaccines initially to begin with.”

Across the U.S., shipments of the vaccine were to arrive at 145 distribution centers on Monday and were to reach 425 centers Tuesday. The final shipment of the first dose was to be on Wednesday, going to 66 centers, federal officials said.

“It seems like it’s been bad news after bad news. ... We’re very sick of watching people die. We really want to do anything we can to help people from dying.”

- Maegan Paradee, a nurse at Candler Hospital in Savannah

What was less clear was the reasoning behind what appeared to be a lag in Georgia’s dose shipments compared to some other states. In Texas, state officials said that 19 hospitals were set to receive 75,000 doses of the vaccine on Tuesday. In Florida, three hospital systems received shipments Monday, and two other health systems received vaccine Tuesday.

It was also unclear why the first shipment in Georgia went to the Coastal Health District. Kemp said that the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed controlled where the first shipment went, and the decision may have been based on the logistics of where else the plane or truck that delivered the vaccine needed to go.

A Trump administration official, who did not want to be named, said that the amount of vaccine Georgia was receiving was close to the per capita goals set at the outset. He would not comment on the issues of timing or on whether the neediest locations were receiving theirs first.

Healthcare professionals at St. Joseph's Candler hospital, including Dr. Ana M. Concepcion, right, applaud the first nurse to be inoculated at the hospital with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday in Savannah. Dr. Concepcion was the first physician to be given the vaccine a short time later. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Healthcare professionals at St. Joseph's Candler hospital, including Dr. Ana M. Concepcion, right, applaud the first nurse to be inoculated at the hospital with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday in Savannah. Dr. Concepcion was the first physician to be given the vaccine a short time later. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Meanwhile, Georgia health care providers Tuesday were on hold, still not knowing when they will receive the vaccine, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration late Friday for emergency use, nor the number of doses they’ll get.

Phoebe Putney Health System issued a news release Tuesday saying it was waiting. The Albany-based system endured Georgia’s first crucible in the pandemic, as March and April caseloads in southwest Georgia exploded to make it the fourth worst hotspot in the world.

“Phoebe was ready to begin vaccinating at-risk healthcare workers Saturday,” the statement read. “As of Tuesday morning, Phoebe was still waiting to find out how many doses of the vaccine it would receive in its initial shipment and when that shipment would arrive.”

A spokeswoman for PruittHealth, one of the largest nursing home companies in Georgia, said the company also had heard nothing Tuesday afternoon about when or if it could administer vaccines or how many doses it might get.

Pruitt is working not only to figure out when its workers will get vaccinated, but also by whom, said spokeswoman Tonja Bridges. It has applied to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to be allowed to administer its own vaccines but hadn’t heard back yet despite a couple days trying.

Over in southeastern Chatham County, where the shipments arrived, there was no complaining among the recipients.

Chatham EMS Chief Chuck Kearns got the call Tuesday. His paramedics are in line for vaccination appointments next week, and his staff immediately prepared a blast email to go out first thing Wednesday on how to sign up.

“We’ve had over 100 personnel who’ve gone into quarantine at one time or another since March,” Kearns said. “When they got the result of tests for quarantine, days were cut in half. We’ve had a few dozen of our employees test positive and some were hospitalized.” He added that this is the 10th epidemic he’s worked as a paramedic, starting with AIDS. To him, his staff’s vaccines are arriving fast enough.

“We’re very relieved,” Kearns said.

AJC Staff Reporters Scott Trubey and Eric Stirgus contributed to this article.

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