Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp delivered updates on the state of Georgia’s COVID-19 vaccination procedures in a press conference Friday afternoon, including changes in those who can administer the vaccine, expanding eligible recipients for the vaccine and tentative plans for the 2021-2022 school year.
Kemp reiterated last week’s expansion of phase 1A criteria to include those over 65 years old as well as firefighters, law enforcement and first responders. He said members of those groups will soon be able to schedule their vaccination appointments, should supply of the vaccine be available. The expansion will go into effect on Jan. 11.
“I am happy to report that beginning soon, Georgians over 65 and those other priority populations can visit the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website to find locations in your community where you can schedule an appointment for the vaccine,” Kemp said.
Kemp also announced that in addition to the partnership between CVS, Walgreens and Operation Warp Speed, the state now has the capacity to administer 11,428 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines per day.
Concerns about expansion of the phase 1A criteria to include residents over 65 cite already strained vaccine rollout resources within the state, but the governor said the reasoning for the expansion was to limit waste of the vaccines.
“What we were simply trying to do is make sure that we didn’t have vaccines sitting in freezers somewhere,” Kemp said.
Vaccine waste has been a reported issue across the country since the vaccines’ first rollout weeks ago. The issue is more prevalent in rural counties with fewer residents.
Georgia had administered 24.48% of the vaccines awarded to the state at the time of the press conference, Kemp said.
Friday’s press conference came one day after Kemp signed an executive order permitting emergency medical technicians and cardiac technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
“This important action, growing the number of people who can vaccinate by more than 10,000, takes us one step further to our ultimate goal of growing the number of people who can be vaccinated,” Kemp said.
The governor encouraged patience, emphasizing logistical issues the state faces during the vaccine’s rollout including limited supply, high call and appointment-request volume and overworked healthcare professionals.
“I’d like to continue to ask for the people of Georgia’s patience as we work hard to swiftly, safely and efficiently administer the limited supply of vaccine we have to those for whom it would be the most good to get it,” Kemp said.
In a press release from St. Mary’s Heath Care System, CEO and President D. Montez Carter shared the governor’s concerns about limited supply of the vaccine.
“Our hospitals have received only limited supplies of vaccine,” Carter said in the release. “Currently, per state guidance, we are prioritizing our colleagues and medical staff members. It is essential that our frontline staff receive protection as soon as possible so that we can continue meeting the needs of our patients and community.”
Kemp also encouraged Georgia residents to place their faith in the efficacy of the vaccine and encouraged everyone who is able to receive the vaccine to do so. Kemp said he will get the vaccine as soon as he becomes eligible.
When asked about the University System of Georgia’s preparedness and ability to vaccinate students, faculty and staff before the return to instruction in August, Kemp declined to comment, instead stating his expectation for a return to in-person instruction in August no matter the level of vaccination achieved.
“I expect you’re going to see a lot of kids going back into the classroom regardless of what the situation is with vaccinating their staff,” Kemp said.
When asked about potential correlation between the recent spike of cases in Georgia and the more contagious strain of the virus discovered in Georgia on Jan. 5, the governor said he fully attributed the spike to holiday gatherings and not to the new strain.
“My message this afternoon to the people of our great state is the same as it has been for weeks,” Kemp said. “We have much hope on the horizon, but we’ve got to hunker down and continue to fight through this together. Continue to follow the guidance we’ve talked about endlessly: wear your mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing and heed the guidance of our public health officials.”
When asked whether he thought further mitigating steps to stop the spread of the virus should be taken, the governor cited the experiences of other states despite their increased regulations.
“Well we have other states that have taken more aggressive steps, and their hospitals are overflowing too. We can deal with this virus, we can fight our way through… We know how to fight through this, we need to continue to do that. If something changes, I always have an open mind,” Kemp said.