The COVID-19 vaccine is being delivered, but if you’re not a front-line worker or an employee or resident of a long-term care facility, don’t expect to get it anytime soon.
“There is simply not enough vaccine to immunize everyone (at once),” said Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton County’s district health director.
Paxton spoke on the issue at the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 16 recess meeting, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pfizer’s vaccine, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Dec. 11, was distributed in the United States starting two days later. A second vaccine, made by Moderna, is expected to be delivered to the population soon, once it gets the say-so from the FDA.
Paxton said the county’s board of health was expected to get its first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine, 2,000 doses, Dec. 17. It’s part of a batch of 84,000 first doses being sent to Georgia. Fulton is taking a four-phase approach on how the vaccine will be administered.
The first phase has three tiers, with Tier 1A including only healthcare and other front-line workers and long-term care facilities’ residents and staff. Tier 1B will include first responders, then educators and other school employees, then grocery store workers and transportation workers, then seniors 65 and older with health problems. Tier 1C will include seniors with little or no health problems and their caregivers.
Phase 2 will comprise of the homeless, jail inmates and other adults over 65. Phase 3 will include hair stylists/barbers and restaurant workers, and Phase 4 includes the rest of the population.
“By that time we’ll have more information from the trials on enrolling children (in vaccinations). If it’s possible, we’ll include children in this phase,” Paxton said.
District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann said she was invited to the White House in Washington for an event earlier in the week regarding Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s plan to quickly roll out the vaccine. She said she was one of two Georgia officials invited, with the other being Valdosta Mayor James Matheson.
“It’s quite impressive that a process that takes years to accomplish took only nine months,” Hausmann said. “What we were told is the vaccine is very safe but was developed just quicker through the FDA process.
“We can expect in Georgia to get a significant amount, based on population. They are 20 million (doses coming nationwide) in December, 30 million in January and 50 million in February, especially with the Moderna vaccine coming.”
Paxton answered questions about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, saying both vaccines, which require two doses each. She said both vaccines have 95% efficacy once both doses are given, but only 50% after one dose. The Pfizer vaccine’s second dose if given three weeks after the first one, and the Moderna vaccine’s second dose is administered four weeks after the first one.
“I feel like this is a gift for all of us this year,” Paxton said of the vaccines. “The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccines, which is a new vaccine.”
She said side effects include mild pain at the injection site, low-grade fever and headache, and they last no more than one to two days. However, Paxton added, even after getting the vaccine, residents should continue to wear masks, wash their hands and remain socially distanced.
Unlike some previous vaccines, individuals can’t get COVID from taking its vaccine.
“This is not a live vaccine, like the polio vaccine, which is a version of the virus. This one is just a replica of a portion of the virus,” Paxton said.
Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International, an emergency management firm working with the county, said Fulton plans to have about 11,000 public safety employees from its city and county law enforcement agencies, including police, fire, EMS and 911 departments, get the vaccine as quickly as possible.
It’s being rolled out at a time when coronavirus cases are on the rise again.
“Fulton County had a seven-day average (increase) from 239 (per 100,000 individuals) on Dec. 1 to 398 today,” Schuster said.
Paxton said the board of health will be educating the public on when each resident could get the vaccine and will provide updates on its website, fultoncountyboh.org.