Walker County exhausted its supply of COVID-19 vaccine Monday after recent winter storms delayed shipments.

The Walker County Health Department was expecting more vaccine to be delivered last week, but it did not arrive because of weather-related shipping delays, said Logan Boss, public information officer and risk communicator for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) Northwest Health District. The department had about 50 doses remaining Friday that were earmarked to be administered Monday, Feb. 22, at previously-scheduled appointments.

“After those are administered, the health department will be out of vaccine until another shipment arrive,” Boss said. “We do not know when that will be. We only schedule immunization appointments if and when we have vaccine on hand, so until we receive more vaccine, we are unable to schedule appointments.”

Boss said health officials hope the disruption in the supply chain will be temporary.

“When we have vaccine on hand and are able to schedule appointments, we balance scheduling first doses with second doses that are due based on the amount of vaccine received that week,” Boss explained. “We proactively call individuals due for their second dose to schedule those appointments.

“It’s important for people scheduled to receive their second dose and worried about not being vaccinated at 28 days to know that the CDC says the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, which we’re using, may be administered up to six weeks after the first dose,” he said.

DPH is currently administering COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1A+, which includes healthcare workers, public safety personnel, residents at long-term care facilities and adults over age 65 and their caregivers.

Boss said Walker health officials are administering “approximately a couple hundred” vaccines daily.

“We could do more if we had more vaccine,” he said. “We are not wasting any vaccine. We are getting every dose of vaccine we receive into peoples’ arms as quickly as possible and are not holding any vaccine in reserve.”

Since the pandemic began and the health department began providing free COVID testing to the community, and has recently shifted into an immunization phase, health department staff have worked tirelessly and diligently to conduct COVID-related work while maintaining essential services at the health department.

Eligible caregivers

Caregivers for the elderly who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine must get the vaccine at the same time as that person to be eligible.

“Caregivers of adults 65 and over must have a scheduled appointment to be immunized at the same time as individuals they accompany to an immunization site,” Joe Legge, Walker County public relations director, said. “In general, a caregiver would be someone who routinely visits a 65+ adult to provide medication, check on things like blood pressure, oxygen or blood sugar levels, cook, clean or handle other responsibilities. The same would be true if the 65+ adult lives with the caregiver.”

Officials recommend that caregivers call the hotline to submit their information, along with that of the person they are caring for, at the same time, he explained. Hotline staff have provisions to keep the two linked when scheduling appointments because the caregiver must accompany the 65+ adult when vaccinated.

“You do not have to get vaccinated in your county of residence,” he said. “We are only signing up Georgia residents, so as long as the caregiver is also a Georgia resident, they would be eligible.”

New appointments are being scheduled as soon as the state sends vaccine to the community, Legge said.

“Unfortunately, the vaccine is not distributed proportionately,” he said. “Due to the extremely erratic and inadequate supply being sent to Walker County, we have only been able to schedule vaccine appointments for people who called the hotline during its first two days of operation.”

Those who called Jan. 27 or thereafter are asked to be patient, and everyone who wants the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get it eventually, Legge said.

Four weeks is the current lead time from hotline call to appointment based on the current supply being sent to the county from the state.

Contacting residents

Walker County enacted its COVID-19 vaccine registration hotline, 706-670-1234, last month. The hotline is staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Shortly after the hotline was launched, the high demand promoted officials to establish a second number, 706-620-0887.

Hotline staff setting up vaccination appointments will call two or three times and leave a message each time.

“If someone does not respond in a timely manner, we will skip them and try again when more doses become available,” Legge said. “There are instances where we are scheduling same day appointments, and a response is required immediately.”

Hotline staff request two contact phone numbers, if possible, and will call both numbers when scheduling appointments, he said.

Health officials urge patience and persistence when calling to schedule an appointment and ask those who might have made appointments with multiple providers and have received the vaccine to cancel their other appointments.

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Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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