Two local COVID-19 vaccine providers say they have the capability to offer mass vaccination – if only they had the vaccine to do it with.
But doses of the vaccine are arriving very slowly. Though local providers have ordered thousands of doses, they’ve only gotten a few hundred, so far.
Hopes are that it will soon improve. Starting next week, Georgia will have more doses of COVID-19 vaccine to give out to members of the public in Phase 1a, and several locations around Coweta will be administering vaccines.
The state is allocated 120,000 doses a week from the federal government. That isn’t changing, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.
But 40,000 doses out of that had been going straight to CVS and Walgreens, which were vaccinating staff and residents of long-term care homes. Starting next week, the full 120,000 will be available for those in Phase 1a because CVS and Walgreens have adequate supply to complete long-term care vaccination.
As of this week, approximately 535,000 vaccines have been administered in Georgia.
Getting signed up for a vaccine can be a tricky business, and nearly every option requires signing up online.
Vaccines are free, though some locations may charge an administration fee. Some will bill insurance for those who have insurance, but not charge those without insurance. Georgians can get vaccinated anywhere in Georgia; you don’t have to stick to your own county or region.
Local providers running waiting lists
Two local pharmacies and YourTown Health, which has locations in Palmetto and Senoia, as well as in neighboring counties, are currently running waiting lists for those who wish to get vaccinated and meet the Phase 1a requirements. Getting on the waiting list must be done online.
Because some older Cowetans who need the vaccine might not use the internet, providers recommend that family and friends help out by sending the emails for them.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is also distributing vaccine, and appointments can be made by phone, though Cowetans reported multiple busy signals, long waits, and often being disconnected after waiting a significant period when vaccine appointments first became available.
As of Friday, the District 4 Public Health website stated that there aren’t any doses currently available and that the appointment line is closed until further notice.
At a press conference Thursday, Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said they’re working on a uniform scheduling tool for vaccination appointments through DPH and hopes to have it up and running by early February.
Kroger and Publix are also administering limited vaccines through certain pharmacies, but finding out where it is available and signing up can be a difficult process.
Publix’s website states that all appointments are currently fully booked, and more appointments will be released when more vaccine becomes available. Kroger offers appointments for a variety of vaccines, but when you click on a local pharmacy, COVID-19 is not among the available vaccinations. It’s not clear how people can find out when vaccine is available at Kroger.
According to recent news reports, Kroger hopes to launch a way to make phone appointments. The Newnan Times-Herald reached out to corporate communications officials with both Kroger and Publix this week and did not receive any response.
Phase 1a was recently expanded to include Georgians over 65 and their caregivers, as well as public safety and law enforcement workers who are not considered health care workers. The phase also includes all health care workers in a clinical setting, and long-term care residents and staff.
Lee Goodrum Pharmacy on Hospital Road and Thompson Pharmacy (formerly Lee Goodrum Eastside) are taking email requests for the vaccine waiting list at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org .
The pharmacies ask that people not call to try to make appointments because of the overwhelming volume.
Emails should include the person’s name, phone number for a callback, age, date of birth and reason for qualifying for vaccination if it’s something other than age.
To get on the waiting list for YourTown Health, go to the contact page on the website at https://www.yourtownhealth.com/contact-us/ .
YourTown Health isn’t currently offering vaccines for caregivers of those over 65, because there is no way to confirm if someone is truly a caregiver, or just saying they are to get a vaccine, according to Jon Wollenzein, CEO of the nonprofit Community Health Center network.
“We’ve got to make sure we do not vaccinate a single person that we can’t verify falls into Phase 1a, and we do not want to jeopardize our ability to give the vaccine down the road,” Wollenzein said. “Because of that, if we cannot verify that a person is a certain age or does a certain job, then we’re going to ask them to wait to be vaccinated until further in the phasing rollout.”
Waiting on more vaccine to arrive
Leaders at both Lee Goodrum and YourTown Health say they’re ready for distributing mass vaccinations but simply lack the product.
YourTown Health has already procured an off-site location to do mass vaccinations in Palmetto and hopes to launch that site in early February – as long as enough vaccine arrives. The clinic is also working on getting a site in Chattahoochee Hills.
In the Senoia office, Wollenzein said they can only administer about 64 vaccines per day, simply because of space constraints and the need to monitor people for 15 to 30 minutes after they receive their shot. With the remote sites, they could do about 450 a day. There may end up being two separate remote sites, one of the first dose and one for the second.
YourTown Health quickly went through its first doses of the vaccine, with the last 30 doses set to be administered Friday.
“Yesterday, we put in a large order and we asked for that order to be delivered here in Palmetto,” Wollenzein said Thursday. “Depending upon what we see there, we will know if the state is taking our maximum allocation seriously.”
Vaccines at YourTown Health are free and no insurance information is requested.
Casey Tarpley, owner of Lee Goodrum, said Wednesday that they had only received 300 doses and had given every one.
“We are utilizing a waiting list due to the unbelievable demand for the vaccine,” he said. “We felt the only way to be fair with the process was to create a waiting list that would time stamp each request.”
When you call Thompson’s Pharmacy, there is a message about signing up for vaccinations. According to the message, they were no longer able to take phone call requests because of high demand. It further states that delivery is slow, and the pharmacy is receiving small batches each week.
Tarpley said Lee Goodrum has requested over 5,000 doses but is only getting about 100 per shipment.
“We have actually reached out to DPH to offer our services in completing a mass immunization clinic in which we believe we could administer 1,000 to 2,0000 doses in a single day,” Tarpley said. “This will only be possible if they will increase shipments to us.”
Tarpley said he feels that the chain pharmacies have dropped the ball with vaccine administration. “I believe if more independent pharmacies were given the opportunity to administer more doses, we could get the job done much quicker.”
Tarpley said they would like to give back to the community by offering vaccination to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
Lee Goodrum isn’t charging a fee to administer the vaccine, but will bill insurance for insured patients.
When YourTown Health first opened appointments for vaccines, they could be made by phone.
But within minutes of the news hitting, the phone system was swamped.
“It actually crashed our phone system,” Wollenzein said. “We said we’ve got to stop people hitting our phone system, because our phone system is important for the overall operation.” They talked with their phone system provider and were told it would take six to eight weeks to upgrade the system to handle that kind of volume, he said. So they had no choice but to go using the online contact page.
As of Thursday, there were over 7,000 people on the waiting list, he said. Approximately half of those are Coweta residents, he said. Those sending in information to make an appointment will get a confirmation message back, but that can take a while – even a week or more because of the high demand. They’re working on a new contact page that will automatically send a confirmation. “We’ve got this huge volume of messages the current contact page wasn’t set up for,” he said.
“I want to assure people that if they sent a message across the contact page, we’ve got it,” Wollenzein said. He said they have received many messages from people who are making the appointment request for their parents or other older family members.