With teachers and others being added to the list of eligible Georgians that can receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 8, Fulton County is getting ready for the next wave of residents to hit its vaccination sites.
“With schools and some medically fragile populations being added, we’re now thinking that population could be as high as 300,000 to make that happen,” said Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International, an emergency management firm working with the county.
Schuster and other officials provided an update on the vaccine rollout at the county board of commissioners’ March 3 meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Feb. 25, Gov. Brian Kemp announced that teachers, other school employees and other vulnerable groups in the state will be eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 8. That susceptible group includes adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the parents of children who have complex medical conditions.
The 300,000 figure Schuster mentioned is nearly equal to the total number of individuals who have received at least one vaccine dose in the county from Fulton’s own sites and other locations such as pharmacies and doctor’s offices (309,477) as of March 1.
Thus far, 199,610 first doses and 109,867 second doses have been given, Schuster said. Fulton’s three vaccination sites – Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, North Point in Alpharetta and the Georgia International Convention Center (GICC) in College Park – have provided 73,371 total vaccines, with 46,914 being first doses and 26,457 second doses.
However, due to the recent weather-related power outages in Texas and unrelated minor hiccups in the vaccine rollout plan, Schuster said, “We’re dealing with an unsteady supply.”
Even so, he and other officials said they’re ready to increase vaccinations at the county’s three sites after exceeding vaccination volume expectations in December, January and February.
“We are expecting a large increase of vaccine supply around the last week in March/first week in April,” Schuster said. “Phase 1B, hopefully we can get to that phase quickly, hopefully in the middle of April/middle of May. … Our goal is to meet the state’s mandate and do it as efficiently as possible.”
After he mentioned the county is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to have each site designated as a mega site so they could receive federal funding, District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann asked how much the county could increase each site’s capacity for vaccinations.
Schuster said Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which is vaccinating at least 6,000 a day, could go up to 15,000, and North Point and the GICC could also raise vaccinations since they have capacities of 2,200 and 3,200 doses per day, respectively.
With some Fulton residents going outside the county to get vaccinated and vice versa, Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director, said 85% of the individuals getting vaccinated at Fulton’s three sites live in the county.
Georgia is expected to receive about 83,000 of the 4 million initial doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which began being shipped March 1, two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for emergency use.
Paxton said she’s pleased that vaccine, the third one following the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, is being rolled out, but she does not yet know how many will be sent to Fulton.
“My guess is they’ll allocate more to rural counties where they don’t have the access to the vaccine that we have,” Paxton said.
Unlike the first two vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson one requires only one dose and does not need special cold storage like the first two do.
“All three vaccines are almost 100% effective with preventing serious illness and death,” Paxton said. “While you might hear the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (75%) is less than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines (95%), … it’s as equally effective at preventing serious illness and death.”
Schuster said the county is working with the Atlanta and Fulton school districts on scheduling vaccination days for all of its staff, so individual teachers and other employees will not have to sign up to get vaccinated.