Other problems facing local DPH: staffing, reluctance to take vaccine

Pat Owens receives the first of two COVID-19 inoculations at the Floyd County Health Department on Jan. 19, 2021. Owens said the process was quick and she barely even noticed when it was done.

More Polk County residents have been affected by COVID-19 in January than any of the previous months of the pandemic, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Reports from the state agency show a significant increase in the number of Polk County residents testing positive for the new coronavirus since the start of the new year as well as those needing hospitalization and dying as a result of complications from the disease.

As of Saturday, the DPH reported 728 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county since Jan. 1, as well as 66 new residents admitted to area hospitals.

The agency’s daily status reports also noted 15 new deaths of Polk County residents in the year’s first 23 days. That includes seven in just the week leading up to Jan. 23.

All of this comes as the state works to administer the first of two COVID-19 vaccinations of either the one developed by Pfizer or Moderna and authorized by the Federal Drug Administration.

The problem continues to be that the demand is greater than the supply.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, both Gov. Brian Kemp and Department of Public Health chief Dr. Kathleen Toomey said the state is relying on the federal vaccine allocation — and until the supply increases, spotty availability will continue.

The COVID-19 vaccine is still limited to those designated in the 1A-plus category. Those over 65, their caregivers, and public safety workers like firefighters and police are on the expanded list, which already included healthcare workers.

The goal is to have upwards of 75% to 80% of the population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

Over half a million COVID-19 vaccines already have been administered, according to the DPH. That’s about half what the state has received, Toomey said.

But with low or unreliable availability and over 10.5 million Georgians to reach, that “herd immunity” goal is not likely to be reached any time soon.

While the Kroger pharmacy in Cedar Plaza in Cedartown has reportedly received 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine, only the Polk County Health Department and Primary Healthcare Center of Polk in Cedartown are listed as places to get the vaccine.

Georgia Public Health Northwest District Director Dr. Gary Voccio said Friday that getting the vaccine from the state has continued to be a struggle.

“Today alone, we had to shut down five out of the 10 departments in our district because vaccines weren’t delivered,” he said.

“We anticipate to start giving the second vaccine next week, after the 28-day period,” he said. “But we don’t know if we’ll have enough. It’s a day by day process.”

Luckily, he said the 28-day period isn’t a firm window. Studies have shown that a person can go weeks beyond that window between the two shots. The immuno-response from the first shot can remain high for quite a while, he said, and the second shot acts as a booster for it.

As of Friday the state reported it had received most of its allocated doses of the two vaccines, just upward of 1,125,000, and has administered 630,984 doses.

The ability to inject the vaccine, discounting the low supplies, is very efficient, he said. Last Tuesday, Floyd County Health Department nurses inoculated 500 people in one day. Since Christmas weekend, the Northwest Georgia District has administered almost 20,000 vaccines.

“Just think about that, 60 an hour, one a minute,” he said. “They could do it if we have enough of the vaccine.”

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