Governor Suggests Vaccination Road Trips
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Governor Suggests Vaccination Road Trips

The mismatch between where demand for COVID-19 vaccinations is greatest and where vaccine is available continues to illustrate Georgia’s low ranking in various metrics.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Photo by Nathan Posner // Gov. Brian Kemp suggests that metro Atlanta residents drive to south Georgia, where COVID-19 vaccinations are more readily available.
Photo by Nathan Posner // Gov. Brian Kemp suggests that metro Atlanta residents drive to south Georgia, where COVID-19 vaccinations are more readily available.

Gov. Brian Kemp recently offered two words of advice for those frustrated in their efforts to secure a COVID-19 vaccine appointment: road trip.

“Governor Kemp urges eligible Georgians in the metro Atlanta area who are unable to get an appointment to consider driving to a south Georgia site where appointments are more available,” his office said in a statement issued March 15.

The state operates nine vaccination “mega” sites. Those in south Georgia include: Columbus (107 miles from the state capitol), Sandersville (127 miles), Albany (181 miles), Waycross (237 miles), and Savannah (248 miles). The price of gasoline in Georgia last week averaged $2.74 per gallon, up five cents from the previous week.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp gives an update on COVID-19 vaccine distribution across the state March 16, 2020.

The travel recommendation was made on the day people 55 and older – including the 57-year-old governor – became eligible for vaccination, along with individuals with disabilities and those 16 and older with certain medical conditions. Already eligible were health workers and first responders, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, people age 65 and older, teachers and staff at pre-K and K-12 schools, adults with intellectual and development disabilities and their caregivers, and parents of children with complex medical conditions.

Next in line will be judges and court personnel. “We believe it is vital to get the third [judicial] branch of state government back operating smoothly and safely,’’ Kemp said March 16.

Kemp also said that an effort would be made to redirect vaccine supply to areas of greatest demand. The mismatch between where demand is highest and where supply is readily available is reflected in Georgia ranking last among the 50 states in the percentage of adults who have received one dose of vaccine, though slightly better in the percentage fully vaccinated, and in the percentage of vaccine doses delivered to the state going into arms, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kemp has preferred to point with pride to the state’s vaccination of 70 percent of its 65-plus population, compared with a 64 percent average nationally.

Even with the well-documented difficulties that people have had securing vaccination appointments, 25 percent more doses were administered in Georgia last week than in the week before. In addition to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require a second “booster” dose, the state is now receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

According to the CDC, as of March 21, 18.5 percent of Georgians 16 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine and 10.5 percent were fully vaccinated. Nationally, 21.4 percent of Americans age 16 and older had received at least one dose and 11.1 percent had been fully vaccinated.

“It’s time to look out for your loved ones and your communities until we vaccinate more of the population,” said Amber Schmidtke.

More than 3.98 million doses of vaccine allocated by the federal government have been shipped to Georgia. The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that there are 1,256 providers statewide administering vaccinations, ranging from the state’s nine “mega” sites to sites run by the state’s 159 counties to a mixture of grocery stores, pharmacies, large retailers, hospitals and clinics throughout the state.

More than 79 percent of the available vaccine doses nationally have been administered, as a first or second dose. Based on CDC data, the rate in Georgia is 70 percent. The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that there are 1,256 providers statewide administering vaccinations, ranging from the state’s nine “mega” sites to sites run by the state’s 159 counties to a mixture of grocery stores, pharmacies, large retailers, hospitals and clinics throughout the state. Kemp has said pointedly that the state does not control vaccine allocated by the federal government to non-government entities.

The DPH reported that, through March 21, more than 2 million Georgians had received at least one dose, accounting for 38 percent of those then eligible and nearly 16 percent of the state’s population. Statewide, more than 1.14 million Georgians have been fully vaccinated.

Amber Schmidtke, who holds a doctorate in medical microbiology and immunology, has been a source of COVID-19 data analysis for journalists and public health professionals. Schmidtke, who has worked at the CDC and Mercer University’s school of medicine, posted on Twitter: “It’s not the time to relax and live your best life. It’s time to look out for your loved ones and your communities until we vaccinate more of the population.”

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