DeKalb vaccine drive draws more than 2,500 to Stonecrest mall

People wait in line to receive their COVID vaccinations at the Mall at Stonecrest on Saturday, August 28, 2021. One DeKalb resident said she ended up waiting more than six hours for her first dose. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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People wait in line to receive their COVID vaccinations at the Mall at Stonecrest on Saturday, August 28, 2021. One DeKalb resident said she ended up waiting more than six hours for her first dose. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Leila L’Abate waited more than six hours Saturday to get her COVID-19 vaccine.

The 61-year-old East Lake resident said she had already contracted the virus last year, but figured it was time to get vaccinated as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, filling up intensive care units at hospitals across the country.

Her daughter, a University of Georgia senior, had urged her for months to get the shot. And DeKalb County offered a $100 incentive to residents who got inoculated Saturday at the Mall at Stonecrest.

The line from the parking lot stretched all the way to the I-20 off-ramp by the time L’Abate pulled up about 8 a.m. She was the 978th person in line.

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DeKalb residents wait for their COVID-19 vaccines outside the Mall at Stonecrest on Saturday. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

DeKalb residents wait for their COVID-19 vaccines outside the Mall at Stonecrest on Saturday. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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DeKalb residents wait for their COVID-19 vaccines outside the Mall at Stonecrest on Saturday. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“There were a lot of people who had gotten their way earlier than I did,” said L’Abate, who suffers from asthma and has a couple other comorbidities.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said more than 100 residents were lined up as early as 4:30 a.m., eager to get the vaccine and the $100 prepaid debit card that came with it. By the time county officials closed the line at 1 p.m., there were at least 750 people still waiting, he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

ExploreDeKalb’s $100 incentive drives more than 1,100 vaccinations in one day

L’Abate was one of more than 2,500 people vaccinated on Saturday, which saw the biggest turnout of any vaccine drive the county has held. It was the fourth time DeKalb offered a financial incentive to get the shot using federal stimulus dollars allotted to the county.

County officials say about 47% of eligible DeKalb residents have been vaccinated already. But Thurmond’s short-term goal, he said, is to get that figure above 50%. While several states and local governments across the country have held lotteries or other giveaways to try and get vaccine numbers up, DeKalb County is the only local government in Georgia embracing a large-scale effort offering financial incentives to the general public.

Thurmond said spending $100 on a gift card is far cheaper than paying off a hospital bill or a funeral.

“The average cost to hospitalize a COVID patient in America is $30,000,” he said. “This is an investment. It’s a preventative health strategy. It’s not a bribe; it’s just good public policy.”

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DeKalb County officials administered more than 2,500 vaccine shots during Saturday's drive.

Credit: DeKalb County government

DeKalb County officials administered more than 2,500 vaccine shots during Saturday's drive.

Credit: DeKalb County government

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DeKalb County officials administered more than 2,500 vaccine shots during Saturday's drive.

Credit: DeKalb County government

Credit: DeKalb County government

L’Abate put off getting the vaccine, partly because of misinformation within her social circle and also because she assumed she still had some immunity left over from the last time she contracted the virus.

Explore‘I just can’t go through this again’: Why mom changed her mind on COVID vaccine

“As more and more things come out, it seems the delta variant is not only more contagious, but also more deadly,” she said.

The county had spent about $200,000 on incentives going into Saturday’s massive vaccination drive, but that figure more than doubled by the end of the day.

“We haven’t capped it as of yet, but our mission is to increase the percentage of DeKalb County residents who are vaccinated,” Thurmond said. “We’re going to continue to invest in this strategy until we have herd immunity.”

L‘Abate ended up getting her first dose of the Moderna vaccine about 2:15 p.m. While she’s grateful to have gotten her first shot, the self-described herbalist said she probably would have scheduled an appointment elsewhere had she known she’d miss her Saturday morning plant swap.

“I didn’t think there was any way it could take that long,” she said.

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Saturday's drive was the fourth event where DeKalb County officials offered financial incentives for residents to get vaccinated.

Credit: DeKalb County government

Saturday's drive was the fourth event where DeKalb County officials offered financial incentives for residents to get vaccinated.

Credit: DeKalb County government

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Saturday's drive was the fourth event where DeKalb County officials offered financial incentives for residents to get vaccinated.

Credit: DeKalb County government

Credit: DeKalb County government