ATLANTA — Georgia educators may be next in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Gov. Brian Kemp said this week that state officials will finalize plans over the next two weeks to expand the list of people eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. His remarks on vaccine eligibility focused on educators, suggesting that teachers and other school professionals may soon be allowed to get the shot.
Kemp, at a state Capitol press conference, referred to a state survey of 171,000 educators that found “only 45 percent of staff in our schools’’ would choose to take the vaccine. That survey data will help the state plan the next vaccine phase.
“There’s not as much demand there as we thought,’’ Kemp said. “Many superintendents have been actively working on this issue. And I greatly appreciate their leadership in identifying ways to partner with other local communities and entities to vaccinate their staff.’’
Most states have already begun vaccinating teachers. But Kemp and public health leaders moved Georgians 65 and older, along with police, firefighters and first responders, ahead of educators on the vaccine priority list, which also gives priority to health care workers and residents and staffers of long-term care facilities.
Emphasizing the need to vaccinate seniors, Kemp noted that 85 percent of Georgia COVID deaths have occurred among people 60 and over.
There are more than 400,000 school employees in Georgia.
The CDC recently issued guidance on whether and to what extent schools should re-open. The Atlanta-based public health agency identified “essential elements” of reopening that include social distancing, universal masking and some testing. Vaccinating teachers was not among those necessary steps outlined by the agency.
Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said Thursday, “Making safe in-person instruction a reality requires federal mandates and resources that compel and allow school districts and institutions of higher education to put in place the mitigating measures necessary to protect against COVID-19.”
Vaccines and rapid COVID-19 tests, Morgan added, “Can be game changers for safe in-person instruction, and federal and state authorities should make them broadly and equitably available. Both must be accompanied by the robust COVID-19 mitigation strategies that the CDC knows must be in place as a starting point for schools to be safe. Whether they are currently working in person or will be returning to school buildings, educators should be assured they are prioritized, and they will have access to COVID-19 vaccines.”
Morgan pointed out that in a recent National Education Association poll, 79 percent of members said they intend to take the vaccine when it’s available.
Kemp also announced that starting Monday, Georgia will be creating mass vaccination sites in four locations: Albany, Macon, Habersham County in northeast Georgia, and the Delta Flight Museum at the Atlanta airport.
“There’s still a lot of demand out there’’ for vaccinations, Kemp said.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said there has been “a steady, small increase’’ in vaccine supply. She said she anticipates a “fairly large amount’’ of vaccine doses coming to the state in the next three to four weeks.
Georgia officials report that the number of new COVID-19 cases in the state has been trending downward, as have hospitalizations for the virus and the positivity rate for people who get COVID tests. But deaths from COVID, as reported daily, have stayed at troubling highs.
Georgia is ranked No. 6 in the nation when it comes to new deaths per 100,000 residents, according to Amber Schmidtke, publisher of the Daily Digest, which analyzes COVID trends in Georgia.
The safety of schools is based on two factors, (1) what’s going on inside the building (i.e., virus mitigation strategies) and (2) what’s going on outside the building (disease rates in the community), Schmidtke reported Wednesday.
She said that based on the CDC’s guidance regarding recent infection rates, there’s only one county in the state, Stewart, “where community transmission levels are compatible with re-opening schools safely for in-person instruction for all students.’’