Georgia prepares for COVID-19 vaccine and post-holiday case spike


Georgia is prepared to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as one is approved, state officials said Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved Georgia’s vaccination plan, which Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said Tuesday mirrors the state’s 2009 influenza pandemic plan and CDC guidance.

Georgia plans to issue the vaccine to vulnerable populations once it is approved.

“We'll be moving in waves over time. Exactly what is our vaccine amount, I think is still to be determined,” Toomey said. “But we are prepared. We have our staff on the ground ready, and will be ready to go when that happens, and we hope it will be as early as mid-December.”

Pfizer and its German pharmaceutical partner BioNTech submitted their vaccine to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval Friday. Moderna is expected to apply in the coming weeks, according to reports.

Health care and essential workers, people over 65 years old and those with high-risk medical conditions should get first priority for the vaccine, according to the CDC. Toomey said since the vaccine will be approved for emergency use, it would not be mandated for public settings such as schools and government offices, but that may change in the future.

“I think when it becomes a fully approved vaccine, I think that's something that will have to be taken into consideration, but at this time, that is not even on the table,” Toomey said.

Georgia’s Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King said the state will have a limited vaccine supply. Officials are working to narrow distribution based on the hardest hit places in the state. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health COVID-19 dashboard, Chattahoochee, Stewart, Clinch and Whitfield counties have the highest number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

Public Health reported 2,452 new COVID-19 cases statewide Tuesday, and 7% of the state’s test results reported Tuesday were positive.

King and Toomey warned Georgians during a COVID-19 briefing Tuesday not to let their guard down, especially ahead of the holidays.

“When you're waiting for the cavalry to arrive, you double down. You double down on the things that you need to do to protect the force,” King said. “Because we know that the vaccine is waiting – is coming – we can’t let our guard down.”

Toomey said the state has seen COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increase after every holiday. Toomey, King and Gov. Brian Kemp warned Georgians to be extra cautious during Thanksgiving and the following holidays.

Kemp said Georgians should consider virtual or outdoor Thanksgiving dinners or small gatherings with a few household members, excluding those who are high risk for severe COVID-19 complications. Officials also pushed CDC guidelines for social distancing, masks and hand washing. The state is prepared in the event a post-Thanksgiving spike occurs, he said.

“We're prepared to handle whatever comes our way,” Kemp said. “We want this to be a bump, not a spike, and that’s what we're seeing right now. So, we're urging everybody to stay focused over this long weekend.”

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