ATLANTA — Georgia is expanding the criteria for who will receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The governor first made the announcement on Channel 2′s special broadcast “COVID-19: The Vaccine in Georgia” on Wednesday night.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr has learned that as COVID-19 cases in the state continue to climb, a number of vaccines are sitting in freezers unused.
As of Thursday afternoon, Georgia set a new daily record of reported COVID-19 cases with 8,551 new cases.
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Many health care workers in the Atlanta metro area are eagerly awaiting their turn to get vaccinated.
While there are plans for antibody infusion centers and mass drive-thru vaccination clinics in the next two weeks, there’s also a concern about how to move the unused supply.
“I realize you still have people, possibly still saying this is a hoax. But you and I both know that common sense is not a flower that grows in everybody’s garden,” said Kenneth Smith of Tifton.
Smith says he was watching Channel 2′s real-time Twitter updates from the capitol Thursday morning where state officials revealed unused vaccine is sitting in areas similar to his hometown.
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“My question is, why not let others of us who are willing to take it, take it?” Smith said.
To understand that, we have to start with eligibility categories.
On Wednesday night, Gov. Brian Kemp and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey revealed the state has expanded its 1a priority category to include first responders and people 65 and older -- adding to healthcare workers and nursing home patients and staff.
Phase 1a statewide has to be serviced before the state starts moving onto the next eligible category.
“There’s still a waiting list of hundreds of healthcare workers who are waiting to get vaccinated, but in many parts of rural Georgia, both in the north and the south, there’s vaccine available and literally sitting in freezers. That’s unacceptable. We have lives to save,” Toomey said.
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The latest state order list gives you an idea how the vaccines are moving, either by Pfizer or Moderna.
Looking at Pfizer, for example, in South Georgia, a Schley County medical center will be granted all of the 975 doses it requested. But Northside Hospital in Atlanta ordered more than 17,000 doses and has been allocated fewer than 3,000.
That list is not an indication of how many each facility has actually administered, but the state says there are healthcare workers in rural areas who, alongside other residents, have not wanted the vaccine that is fully available to them now.
“We knew we would hit situations where you just don’t know how this will go, and that’s the problem we have right now. We have more people who want to get vaccinated in the metro areas than we have vaccine. And it’s completely the reverse of that in rural Georgia. The demand is not there from the people who want to get it, but the vaccine’s there. So that’s why we’re changing, we’re moving,” Kemp said.
The state is currently trying to figure out how to move the vaccine supply without damaging the doses, doubling up with incoming supply or missing rural 1a eligible recipients who may change their minds.