Years of budget cuts may be making it harder for state to distribute COVID-19 vaccine, experts say

Years of budget cuts may be making it harder for state to distribute COVID-19 vaccine, experts say

ATLANTA — Finding a COVID-19 vaccination appointment has become a daily struggle for thousands of Georgia seniors.

Some area health departments that are booked are taking on appointments for next week starting Friday.

“The website is down; it’s almost constantly down,” said Ron Krieger. “We’ve been trying for days and days and days.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Georgia 49 out of the 50 states when it comes to vaccination rate, ahead of only Alabama.

Gov. Brian Kemp said there’s a vaccine shortage and that health workers are underreporting numbers because they’re overwhelmed with patients.

Public health experts said counties are struggling to handle such a massive task.

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“Many public health departments are, you know, understaffed, underfunded. And now, they’re being tasked with rolling out a mass vaccination campaign in addition to testing and contact tracing,” said public health microbiologist Amber Schmidtke.

The Georgia Legislature cut state funding by 10% across the board last year in a move that avoided furloughs. But it left the state Department of Health with $8.2 million lesser to navigate the pandemic with.

Now that the vaccine is in Georgia, area health departments have largely been left in charge of distribution without enough state money.

“Right now, it’s all on health departments, and they need those resources to effectively get the vaccine to everyone,” said Laura Harker with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

She told Channel 2′s Matt Johnson that she understands how an economic downturn forced budget cuts but wished public health could have been spared.

“Public health has already been operating in a position where they don’t have enough resources — even prior to the pandemic,” Harker said.

Production of the vaccines is expected to increase in the coming months, and experts like Harker said a more centralized system will help.

“There’s 18 public health districts, and they all oversee all of these different counties. So there’s so much different, disjointed structure that makes it hard to have one set, type of rollout for the vaccine,” Harker said.

For seniors trying to get through, many are worried about their chances.

“Trying to figure out a way to get it done,” Krieger said.

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