METRO ATLANTA — Georgia opened the door wider March 25 for those seeking a vaccination for the deadly COVID-19 virus.
Georgians age 16 and older are now eligible to receive the vaccines.
“I feel like we’re turning a corner,” Alpharetta resident Debbie Engler-Key said following her vaccination.
She said people are getting vaccinated for themselves and for others.
“In order for the whole community to go back, the whole community needs to be vaccinated, so it’s almost like your civic responsibility to me,” she said.
Engler-Key has received both doses of the Moderna vaccine.
Heather Wagner, also of Alpharetta, has received one dose.
“It feels good to have the vaccines and now to be able to be eligible and get them,” Wagner said.
The vaccination effort spans public and private organizations.
Vaccination sites are being operated by the Georgia Department of Public Health, Georgia Emergency Management Agency & Homeland Security and by the counties. Pharmacy companies, like CVS and Kroger, are also administering shots.
In Forsyth County, healthcare workers had administered 1,997 vaccines at its site as of March 23, Forsyth County Communications Director Karen Shields said.
Fulton County had administered 525,000 doses of the state’s 3.2 million doses by March 22, Fulton County Commission Bob Ellis said.
DeKalb County reported that, as of March 20, 44,487 have been vaccinated at sites operated by the DeKalb County Board of Health. This number doesn’t include private providers or retail pharmacies, such as CVS, Kroger, Publix and Walgreens, said Eric Nickens, manager at the office of marketing and business development for the DeKalb County Board of Health.
GEMA operates nine sites that administer the Pfizer vaccine, but only one in Fulton County at the Delta Air Lines Museum. As of March 16, the Delta site has administered 25,756 doses. GEMA doesn’t operate sites in DeKalb or Forsyth Counties, said Erica Inniss-Alexander, external affairs specialist for GEMA.
During the appointment, constituents stay in their vehicle throughout the process and must present a form of identification so GEMA can confirm their appointment, Innis-Alexander said.
Alpharetta Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said tracking the number of residents vaccinated in a city or county is virtually impossible.
“The reality of that data is that it seems a better indicator of how many vaccine doses have been administered in a county, as it does not account for where the individuals receiving the vaccine actually live,” Drinkard said. “Given that we know people are crossing county lines seeking vaccinations, this is a critical issue in that data.”
With the exception of Atlanta, cities are not responsible for providing health and human services.
That is left up to the counties, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said.
“The vaccination program to date has been run through a combination of the county and the state, mostly at this point,” Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said. “[That’s] because, one, the vaccines come into the health department, and two, because there isn't enough vaccine for the cities really to jump in.”
Bodker said some cities have volunteered emergency medical technicians to help.
“What the cities have done is we've provided paramedic personnel to help supplement the number of people that are there giving the vaccinations at the county sites,” he said. “We've all volunteered a certain number of days of paramedic help to help administer the vaccines.”
Fulton County in full swing
The Fulton County Board of Health is operating three sites. One at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, another at 4700 North Point Parkway in Alpharetta, and the third in College Park at the Aviation Cultural Center.
Of the estimated 525,000 doses administered in Fulton County, about 25 percent were done at the public health sites, County Commissioner Ellis said.
Depending on the supply from the state, the Fulton County sites have the capacity to administer about 1,000 doses a day. So far, the largest number of vaccines given on one day between all three sites was about 4,700, Ellis said.
He said he has received good feedback about the North Point Parkway site in Alpharetta, which also serves as a COVID-19 testing site.
Alpharetta’s Drinkard said the city has found the vaccination site to be running efficiently, but he noted that the major issues are related to the ability to get an appointment.
Alpharetta residents Wagner and Engler-Key said they experienced issues scheduling an appointment but the vaccination process itself went smoothly at private pharmacies.
Early on, Engler-Key signed up on multiple websites but all appointments were full. She heard through friends that smaller towns had more supply than the cities, so she was prepared for a road trip.
“I heard back from a couple of others,” she said. “They emailed me back right away saying ‘our appointments are full. Try back again later.’ So it was a little discouraging. Then later that morning I got an email from this pharmacy [in Mableton] that said ‘if you can be here by 5:00 we have the vaccine,’ so I jumped in my car and drove over there.”
Engler-Key had better luck with scheduling by calling or emailing providers. She hand no responses from websites she signed up through.
“I think this is the way it’s working for a lot of people, and I’m thinking how discouraging this must be for people who don’t have these resources,” Engler-Key said, noting that her sister had a similar experience.
Wagner also struggled to find an appointment for her first dose.
“I was trying to go through a lot of different sites, and just couldn't find one available at the time,” Wagner said. “I was waiting patiently because I'm under the educator category and just waiting until I was eligible.”
She made her appointment over the phone. A pharmacy technician was able to schedule her for an appointment at the Kroger on South Atlanta Road.
“It was just surreal in a way of, oh my goodness, we finally are getting this going, and just going through that process was just like I was going to get my flu shot as regular as it was, but just internally so excited and relieved,” Wagner said.
The Alpharetta site at North Point is the closest government-run site to Johns Creek. The city has received few complaints about the site and those were addressed, Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker said.
“If you look at Fulton County as a whole, the number of people that have gotten vaccinated within Fulton County is basically equal to the other metro counties combined,” Bodker said. “So, they are doing a very effective job of vaccinations, all things considered.”
DeKalb County site
The DeKalb County Board of Health does not operate a vaccination site in Dunwoody. The closest location is the Doraville MARTA station.
As of March 20, that site had administered 25,518 vaccinations, which also includes those vaccinated at the BrandsMart USA parking lot. Approximately 3,523 Dunwoody residents received shots at those sites, said Eric Nickens, manager at the Office of Marketing and Business Development for the DeKalb County Board of Health.
Those with appointments check in with their QR code upon arrival, park their vehicles and are directed inside for their shot.
After an individual has received their vaccination, they are monitored for 15 minutes for any adverse reactions. Those who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine will be scheduled for a second dose during the observation period, Nickens said.
Scheduling appointments hasn’t come without challenges.
“Based on the limited availability or no availability for appointments at both vaccination sites, there is definitely a high demand for the vaccine,” Nickens said. “With such a rapid and large-scale rollout, which continues to be dependent on vaccine supply, there have been successes and challenges. We have been able to address and remedy those challenges along the way.”
Dunwoody residents have reached out to the city for assistance in finding an appointment, Mayor Lynn Deutsch said, adding that residents seem eager to be vaccinated.
Part of her responsibility as mayor, she said, is providing residents with information about the vaccines and how to access them.
“I am excited that all Georgians over 16 are now eligible,” Deutsch said. “I believe that the eligibility expansion will increase the amount of vaccines being administered and eliminate the confusion caused by the different and changing criteria.”
Forsyth County runs a vaccination site at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College. The location has been open since March 17 and 1,997 vaccines have been administered in the first week, as of March 23, Forsyth County Department of Communications Director Karen Shields said.
Prior to opening the site at the college, the county partnered with Northside Hospital and other organizations to administer vaccines at two churches over eight weeks in January and February. During that time, 11,644 vaccines were administered, Shields said.
Forsyth County residents have been pleased with the process that provides second dose appointments when the first dose is administered, Shields said.
Scheduling an appointment
As eligibility has expanded, demand and volume are significantly increasing.
Nickens offers this advice:
- Be patient because many others are trying to find a vaccine appointment too.
- Be nice, particularly when interacting with someone over the phone.
- Try searching for appointments during the early morning or late evening, during off-peak times.
- Double check the spelling of all information entered during registration. Your name should match your legal identification. Typos or incorrect information can cause delays at check-in and may result in missing phone calls or emails.
People should be prepared to drive to another county if they are able.
If an individual schedules an earlier appointment at another location but already has an existing appointment somewhere else, health officials ask that you cancel the later appointment.
“That location is holding a vaccine dose just for you and if you don’t cancel, that could end up being a wasted dose,” Nickens said.