ATLANTA — Georgia officials overseeing the state’s COVID-19 vaccine program are awaiting word from the new Biden administration on whether more doses will head their way amid an early shortage.

Pharmacies and health clinics had given out more than 550,000 doses to Georgia nursing homes, hospitals and people at least 65-years-old as of Thursday, marking roughly half of the vaccines Georgia has received so far, said state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.

That’s far short of the 2 million Georgians now eligible for the vaccine who will need two doses each.

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Gov. Brian Kemp said officials will move “as quickly as we can” to distribute vaccines if Georgia’s current allotment of 120,000 doses per week increases with the new president.

“I can’t control the supply we’re getting,” Kemp said at a news conference Thursday. “But if we get more … we will do everything in our power to empower not only the government, but also private-sector partners to get this vaccine in people’s arms.”

Locally, Dr. Williams Norris Little, chief medical officer at Piedmont Newton, told the Newton Board of Commissioners Tuesday that the hospital has been able to vaccinate “large numbers of our frontline workers in terms of health care staff at the hospital.”

Piedmont is also rolling out vaccination clinics and working with the Department of Health to vaccinate those in priority groups, he said.

Piedmont currently has vaccination clinics in Conyers and McDonough. Patients with a Piedmont physician are being contacted as appointments become available. More information on Piedmont’s vaccination program can be found at www.piedmont.org/covid-19/vaccine.

Additional information on vaccinations is available at these websites: https://dph.georgia.gov/locations/covid-vaccination-site and https://dph.georgia.gov./

“Overall the pandemic has certainly challenged our resources,” Little told commissioners. “I would be remiss if I did not say people were a bit weary and tired and working a great deal to provide care for the patients in our community, but we have been able to fulfill the mission that we have, which is to care for all patients with all conditions that come.”

Little also expressed appreciation to the community for support of the hospital.

“Our community in Covington and Newton County has been extremely supportive of our hospital with their thoughts and well wishes and prayers and snacks and meals and all kinds of things they have done, and so we want to express our great appreciation to our community as we have gone through this over the last few months,” he said.

Biden, who was inaugurated Wednesday, has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines over the next three months by using the federal Defense Production Act to spur vaccine production and setting up Federal Emergency Management Agency-run vaccination centers.

More than 1,600 clinics, pharmacies, doctors and groceries have signed up to administer vaccines in the month or so since Georgia’s rollout started, Toomey said. Their success depends on how much supply the federal government and manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna can muster in the coming weeks.

“This is a federal program,” Toomey said. “All the logistics are done at the federal level.”

Despite concerns, Kemp and Toomey said COVID-19 vaccines are now stocked enough to ensure Georgians already vaccinated once will be able to receive the necessary second dose for full inoculation. That’s due to a federal program making headway on vaccinating residents and staff in nursing homes through CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, Kemp said.

“These additional doses in the short term will allow existing providers and public-health departments at the county level to expand the number of appointments that they are currently scheduling,” Kemp said. “But our total supply … does not fulfill the demand from seniors and other at-risk eligible Georgians.”

Georgia’s vaccine rollout kicked off in mid-December at a slow pace, hindered by short supplies and an imbalance in demand between health-care workers in rural areas who have shown less zeal for vaccination than metro Atlanta hospital employees who have rushed to schedule appointments.

Meanwhile, deaths stemming from the highly contagious virus have ticked up in recent weeks, Kemp said. The grim news comes during spike in COVID-19 infections over the winter months that’s showing signs of a slowdown, Kemp said – but which is still hammering communities even harder than the devastating outbreaks of summer.

The governor urged Georgians Thursday to continue wearing masks, washing hands and keep distance from each other as fatigue over safety measures takes root nearly a year after the pandemic began.

“Our hospitals cannot handle another surge of COVID-19 patients on top of their current workload,” Kemp said. “This is not an all-clear signal. We’ve got to continue to keep our foot on the gas.”

More than 700,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Thursday afternoon, with nearly more 150,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 11,511 Georgians.

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Editor Alice Queen contributed to this report.

Editor

I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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