NORTH FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Appointments filled up fast when Fulton County residents 65 and older became eligible to sign up for COVID-19 vaccinations Jan. 11. The senior group represents the first members of the general public targeted to receive the vaccinations. Healthcare workers were the first up for vaccinations in mid-December.
Georgia is in phase 1A+ of four phases of vaccine rollout. In phase 1A+, staff in clinical settings, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, first responders and adults 65 and older can receive a COVID vaccine. Those who have already contracted COVID-19 are still eligible but are encouraged to delay vaccination because they already have a level of immunity from the virus, healthcare officials say.
Rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in North Fulton County is taking place at various locations, but the vaccines are distributed centrally through the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Residents can sign up for vaccinations through the Fulton County Board of Health on the county website, fultoncountyga.gov.
All appointments for the week of Jan. 11 were filled the first day.
The county has several other enrolled COVID-19 vaccine providers with different registration systems, from local hospitals and health clinics to Publix and Kroger. And some private healthcare providers, including Wellstar North Fulton, Northside Hospital and Emory Johns Creek Hospital, also have vaccine doses but are still in the process of vaccinating staff and patients. All locations providing vaccines are taking signups per the Georgia Department of Public Health’s phasing plan.
The backlog is partially because people cannot be vaccinated for COVID-19 at the same rate as other common vaccines. Administering COVID-19 vaccines is more complex, partly because providers must monitor individuals for 15 minutes after they receive the shot.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has a COVID-19 vaccine locator on its website, dph.georgia.gov.
Most of these providers have vaccination information on their website and a phone hotline. The vaccines are federally funded and provided to patients at no charge, aside from an administration fee for some patients.
A number of Kroger and Publix pharmacy locations have placed orders for the vaccine. At least 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been allocated to almost 50 Kroger and Publix locations in Fulton County. Last Thursday, Publix opened appointment applications at stores in 32 counties, including Fulton, Forsyth and Gwinnett. All slots were full by Friday.
Other healthcare providers have not opened vaccinations to the public but have administered thousands of vaccination doses to staff and patients.
Wellstar North Fulton is one of the providers, and Wellstar Primary Care patients are eligible to make appointments for vaccinations. The Wellstar Healthcare System, which includes 11 hospitals across Georgia, has already scheduled the first 10,000 COVID vaccination appointments for patients age 65 and older, according to Jon-Paul Croom, president of Wellstar North Fulton Hospital. With early appointments already filled, Wellstar is providing 2,000 vaccinations per day, including first and second doses for staff members. Wellstar patients should visit the Wellstar MyChart scheduling tool to view new dates, times and locations for vaccinations as they are added.
Croom said local public health departments received vaccine allotments for the general population, including doses for medical providers not affiliated with a healthcare system.
The Georgia Department of Public Health website states that depending on vaccine supply allocations from the federal government, “it may be weeks before additional providers will have vaccines available for quicker and more widespread distribution.”
Emory Johns Creek Hospital is at a similar stage in the rollout, following CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health guidelines for distribution. The hospital is distributing vaccines within its healthcare workforce and long-term care residents and staff.
Emory Johns Creek spokeswoman Alysia Satchel said the hospital expanded its vaccination distribution Jan. 11 to Emory Healthcare patients aged 65 and older by appointment only.
Statewide, vaccinations have been lagging since rollout began in mid-December. CDC data place Georgia second to last in the percentage of its population receiving shots, at 1.9 percent. As of Jan. 11, the Georgia Department of Health has distributed 1,003,975 doses and administered 198,756, around 20 percent.
Phase 1b, the next phase for vaccine distribution, will include critical frontline workers, such as education faculty and staff, court employees, grocery workers, healthcare distribution employees and others. Those in the general population ages 40 to 63 are eligible for vaccines in Phase 2. And all Georgia residents will be eligible for vaccines in Phase 4 — including children, once the vaccine is approved for pediatric use.
Vaccine providers depend on state guidelines to proceed in the phasing plan for vaccination rollout. Vaccines for the general public will not be available until late spring or summer at the earliest, according to the Fulton County Board of Health website.
Croom and Satchel stressed that vaccination is a big step toward ending the pandemic, but that everyone — including those who have been vaccinated — should continue to follow COVID-19 prevention measures: wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and washing hands frequently.
For more information about COVID-19 vaccine distribution and appointments, the Georgia COVID-19 vaccine hotline is (888) 357-0169, and the Fulton County Board of Health hotline is (404) 613-8150.