ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's plan to expand access to a coronavirus vaccine to people over 65 got off to a rocky start Monday, with the websites of at least two public health districts crashing and other districts reporting overwhelming demand for appointments.
The state was already struggling with its vaccine rollout before the latest woes.
District 2 Public Health, which encompasses Hall and 12 other North Georgia counties, asked for patience in a Monday afternoon statement to the community.
"Due to the huge response for the COVID-19 Vaccine, all District 2 Public Health Departments' phone lines, call center, and website is overwhelmed and not [able] to handle the demand," the statement said. "We ask that everyone be patient. We understand that everyone is anxious, but everyone who wants the vaccine will be given the opportunity to get vaccinated. Currently, there is a limited supply of vaccine available at a small number of providers. But, as more vaccine is shipped to additional enrolled providers, access to appointments will improve over the days and weeks ahead"
The statement also noted that District 2 is adding staff - including nursing students from local universities - to assist with vaccine administration.
Elsewhere in the state, the Coastal Health District, which includes Savannah, stopped scheduling appointments after an “overwhelming response from residents ages 65 and older interested in COVID-19 vaccination,” the district said in a news release.
The district — one of 18 in the state — said health officials in the eight counties it covers have enough requests to schedule appointments through February and, in some cases, into March.
“We know people are frustrated because the process is moving more slowly than they would like, and if we could vaccinate everyone today, we’d do that," Lawton Davis, the district's health director said in a statement. “But your health departments are stretched thin and doing what they can to move forward.”
Davis said at a news conference later that he expects other “large-scale providers” of the vaccine to begin offering shots in the Savannah area either later this week or next week. He said more providers are needed, noting that local health departments traditionally have served a safety net role.
Elsewhere in the state, a message at the top of the North Central Health District's website said it was experiencing an extremely high volume of calls for COVID-19 vaccination appointments and understood people's “frustration.” It said it was working with the company that manages its call line to try to improve the process.
Meanwhile, the Cobb & Douglas Public Health website was down due to a server issue, spokeswoman Valerie Crow said in an email.
And the North Georgia Health District's server became overloaded due to high volumes of people trying to schedule vaccine appointments online, said spokeswoman Jennifer King. She said it was uncertain when the website would be back up.
The district was asking people to call its hotline and to "please be patient if they experience delays getting through,” King said in an email.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is working to make it easier to schedule appointments and to distribute the vaccine more efficiently, but is asking the public to be patient, the agency said in a statement.
“This is a heavy logistical lift, complicated by limited doses of available vaccine, and the resources needed for safe administration,” the statement said. “Many providers throughout the state have vaccine, but are still vaccinating their own staffs and patients, and are not yet able to vaccinate the public.”
Georgia has struggled to administer its vaccine allocation even as the state sets daily records for people hospitalized with the coronavirus. As of Sunday, Georgia had administered nearly 184,000 of the roughly 556,000 doses it had been shipped, according to state health officials.
Gov. Brian Kemp said Friday he was not happy with the state's progress, and officials had to “keep moving the needle.”
Before Monday, the vaccine was available to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The state has now opened up access to law enforcement, firefighters and first responders in addition to people over 65.
Separately Monday, Democrats in the state Legislature released a letter they sent to Kemp urging him to close schools, mandate masks and look into a shelter-in-place order or limit large gatherings in bars, clubs and restaurants given the spike in coronavirus cases and the discovery of a more contagious variant in the state. Kemp reiterated Friday that he won’t impose any new restrictions, saying he felt other states that had cracked down on activities such as indoor dining and bars hadn’t fared any better.
AccessWDUN staff contributed to this report
Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report. Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.