One hundred local residents got a shot instead of a pinch on St. Patrick’s Day in Polk County this year as part of the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.

Redmond Regional Medical Center partnered with the Polk County government to hold a one-day COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Wednesday, March 17, at the Nathan Dean Community Center in Rockmart, providing the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine to 100 people.

Even though people were given an appointment time when they called the number to sign up for the vaccination, Redmond EMS Director Marty Robinson said they still had a small number of people in line at 7:15 a.m. ready for the clinic, which did not start until 9 a.m.

“Some people like to be early so we expected a couple of people, but between 9 and 9:45 we administered a little over half of the entire vaccine that we were given, so it’s been great,” Robinson said. “I appreciate people coming out. This is our way back to being normal again, and I’m just ecstatic that people are coming out to get the vaccine, I really am.”

The COVID-19 is being given by county health departments, healthcare providers and pharmacies across the state free of charge to all people who meet the Georgia eligibility guidelines. Those eligible as of Wednesday included anyone 55 or older, teachers, school system employees, first responders, healthcare workers and anyone with certain medical conditions.

Robinson said Wednesday’s clinic served as a test to see if they could organize an off-site clinic and what the interest would be for one. With all 100 of the available doses registered for and given, he said they were pleased with the response.

“We’ve been running weekly vaccine clinics at the hospital, and luckily we were able to come out and do a community clinic. That’s the biggest way that we’re trying to contribute, just to get the vaccine in as many arms as we can,” Robinson said. “And we believe in it. We’ve had a huge population of our own healthcare workers who have taken it, so it’s a good thing.”

Jerry and Leanne Hornsby were two of the 100 people to get their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday. They were observed for about 30 minutes after getting the shot to make sure there were no side effects and given a card to come back to the center for the final shot in early April.

“I’m glad that they had this because it seems almost impossible to get it in Polk County anywhere,” Leanne Hornsby said. The couple said their son is a doctor working his residency at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga and had encouraged them to get the vaccination.

Still lagging

Getting the vaccine to Georgia residents hasn’t been easy. Logan Boss, spokesman for the Northwest Health District, said that being put on hold or having to wait for an adequate supply to arrive at local county health departments has been frustrating for both the public and the public health employees.

“Our supply of vaccine still remains erratic, and at this time still inadequate to meet the overall demand we’ve seen in Northwest Georgia,” Boss said. “However at other times, as more vaccine providers come online, on any given day, one health department may have vaccine available but no appointments. That’s when we put out public alerts about having vaccines at certain locations.”

As the state works on not only distributing vaccines to the thousands of providers around the state but also the nine mass vaccination sites organized by the state, there is an ebb and flow, Boss said, of who gets how much vaccine.

Polk County ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to the percentage of the state’s population who has received at least the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. A total of 8,750 doses had been given as of Saturday, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, with an average of 20,879 per 100,000.

That was on par with Bartow County’s vaccination rate as of Saturday of 21,849. Haralson County had 9,369 doses administered for a rate of 32,055 per 100,000, while Paulding County was the lowest of the surrounding counties with a rate of 14,810.

Floyd County, which has a large healthcare community with Floyd Medical Center, Redmond Regional Medical Center and Harbin Clinic all based in Rome, had a robust 47,236 doses per 100,000.

Where are we at

Since the spike in confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in early January, as well as the hospitalizations and deaths contributed to the virus, the transmission and effects of COVID-19 have been drastically reduced. But health professionals are still pleading for people to remain cautious.

“Even though the numbers are going down, which is very encouraging, we’re still seeing cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Boss said. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Polk County had an average of 5.3 confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day since the beginning of March through Saturday according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, with 13 residents admitted to a hospital with complications and three deaths.

That’s nearly an 81% decrease in the number of cases per day compared to January when Polk County had 862 confirmed cases to go with 80 hospitalizations and 17 deaths. February saw 258 confirmed cases in county residents, with 41 hospitalizations and 10 deaths.

With the COVID-19 pandemic a year old this month, Boss said the country is still seeing 40,000-45,000 new cases each day.

“That’s still higher than we want to see,” Boss said. “People just need to keep practicing physical distancing and non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as mask wearing and hand sanitization, when they can, and get the vaccine when they are eligible.”

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