As of Thursday, all Georgians ages 16 and over are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and local healthcare officials have taken several steps to prepare for this additional group of people.
One part of District 2 Public Health’s preparation for the additional group of people was moving Hall County’s vaccination center from Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center to the Hugh Mills Physical Education Center at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus starting April 6.
“We had anticipated that this day would come, and we would need more space,” Dave Palmer, public information officer with District 2 Public Health said about the change in location. “We’re ready to vaccinate people.”
Those who already have a second-dose appointment scheduled now until April 12 at Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center will still be vaccinated there. After April 12, second-dose vaccinations will be administered at UNG.
Palmer said this additional space will allow for more vaccinations to be given in a shorter amount of time.
“We have to have the observation time after the vaccine, so that’s going to mean more people moving through will have to be monitored and observed for a few minutes, and that gives us more space for that,” Palmer said. “It also gives us more space to have more vaccinators, so we can get more people vaccinated.”
Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has remained high for District 2 Public Health since the vaccines were first made available for the public. Because of this high demand, a new online registration link was also recently opened by the Public Health Department, which aims to make the process of registering for a vaccine easier.
“The new link, you can make an appointment anywhere in the state. So it makes it a lot simpler … it’s for any county in Georgia,” Palmer said.
Those interested in registering for a vaccine can also call 1-888-457-0186 statewide or 1-888-426-5073 for District 2 Public Health specifically.
“We knew the day would come that vaccine would be open to all Georgians, and we want to make sure that folks get vaccinated so we can put an end to this virus,” Palmer said.
Efforts by the public health department have also made it easier for healthcare providers in the community to provide the vaccine.
“The mass vaccination sites at the Habersham Fairgrounds and through District 2 Public Health have provided greater access to the vaccine, and that has allowed healthcare providers in the community – like Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG) and others – to focus on providing the vaccine to established patients,” Bobby Norris, vice president of operations for Northeast Georgia Physicians Group said in an email statement.
Currently, both District 2 Public Health and the Northeast Georgia Health System are administering the Pfizer and Modern vaccine. Neither has received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine yet, but officials from both said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will help increase the ability to provide vaccines once it arrives, a particularly important factor with the newly expanded eligibility.
“Expanded eligibility is a very good thing,” Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, medical director of infectious disease medicine at Northeast Georgia Medical Center said. “It makes the distribution process simpler and opens the door now for anyone who wants the shot to get it. The bottom line is that the more people who have the vaccine, the healthier our community will be in the end.”