Georgia educators will finally have the opportunity to get the COVID-19 vaccinations after several teachers pushed for weeks for the state to expand vaccination eligibility.
On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Brian Kemp gave an update on the delivery of vaccines in Georgia and announced the widened eligibility. Teachers and K-12 school employees, including private school, preschool and daycare employees, will be eligible to receive the vaccine, as well as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers. Parents of children with “complex medical conditions” will also be eligible.
The expanded eligibility will take effect on March 8.
Currently, Step 1A+ in Georgia covers health professionals, seniors 65 and older and long-term care center employees, law enforcement and firefighters. In January, with the state extending this process to cover people 65 years of age and older and emergency responders, Georgia strayed from the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices guidelines, which recommends those under 75 not be vaccinated until stage 1C.
The governor said during the pandemic, many parents of children with complicated medical problems have been in communication with his office.
"Many have had to stay sheltered in place for months on end, for fear of infecting their loved one or spreading the virus themselves," Kemp said. "I have read those stories, and I cannot imagine what they have had to go through."
For their perseverance during the pandemic, Kemp thanked educators for having their students in mind first.
"For too many parents, this is simply impossible to do while your child is home learning through a screen. Virtual schooling is leaving too many children behind and parents are literally at wits' end," Kemp said.
Kemp said students in Georgia need to be back in the classroom for face-to-face instruction five days a week. He said he wouldn't order schools to reopen, but he hopes they will step in that direction with the vaccine extension.
Additionally, Kemp said members of the school staff can collaborate with their administration to ensure that the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Public Health are in touch with their district and school.
“Since mid-January, we have seen a 70% increase in doses sent to the state which has allowed us to make significant headway in the current [Phase] 1A+ population,” Kemp said.
Although more individuals will be able to get the shots, the governor said it is also vital to note that there is restricted availability.
If supply continues to increase, Kemp said the state will plan to extend the vaccine requirements further later in the month of March to cover others with serious underlying health conditions.
Furthermore, Kemp noted that the state will no longer use 1A+ or 1B for new extended requirements in order to prevent confusion. When they go on, the health department will instead list people that are already eligible.