During the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Jan. 7, Chris Grimes, director of Forsyth’s Emergency Management Agency, answered the boards’ questions about the Georgia Department of Public Health’s plan regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.
Grimes said that as of Monday, Jan. 11, the state of Georgia would be in Phase 1-A+, which means that essential employees such as health care workers, police and firefighters are eligible to receive the vaccine if they chose. People who are 65 years of age and older, along with their caregivers, will be in the next wave of 1-A+ as soon as it becomes available.
Phase 1-B is for essential workers who work in a non-health care industry and is a broad bracket. Phase 1-B will include those who work in critical infrastructure sectors, ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health, safety, economic and national security.
People who are categorized in Phase 1-C are those ages 16-64 with medical conditions that cause an increased risk for severe symptoms of COVID-19.
While the Department of Public Health has set these guidelines for vaccine administration in Georgia, Grimes said they are constantly changing based on logistics that counties are supplying.
“We [in Forsyth County] are here to provide a resource and provide logistic support for public health. This is a [public health] push to get [vaccination administration] done,” Grimes said.
Grimes said that within Forsyth County, multiple departments, including the fire department and sheriff’s office, have stepped up to volunteer time and efforts to help the DPH when the time comes.
Fire Chief Barry Head said the fire department would be supplying its paramedics to volunteer to administer the vaccination.
“As time goes on, we are seeing more of the vaccination supply, but right now, being able to administer [it] is probably one of the things that’s holding us back,” Grimes said.
District 2 Commissioner Alfred John asked Grimes if there had been a call-out made for volunteers in the county. He said there had been, though there are restrictions placed on who can apply to be a volunteer. According to Grimes, volunteers and eligible vaccinators in the county are currently in lower supply than the vaccine.
“There are only so many nurses to go around … nurses are in very high demand right now. Anything that we can help to get more vaccinators out there is what we’re going to do,” Grimes said.
He said volunteers must be either a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse or paramedic. Those who have the qualifications and would like to volunteer can request forms and go through the licensing process at the DPH’s website at dph.georgia.gov.
Private doctors’ offices can also register to give the vaccine to their patients by applying on dph.georgia.gov. The vaccines are temperature sensitive, with the Pfizer vaccine having to be kept at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. This limits the amount of private doctors’ offices that will be able to apply for supplies of vaccines.
Grimes said employees have been scouting Forsyth County for areas to hold events for vaccine administration. He said originally, the plan was to hold drive-thru style vaccine administration. Today, the plan is to have patients visit a building to check in, undergo a screening process, obtain the vaccine and sit through the waiting period after administration.
To help better serve the residents of Forsyth County when the time comes to administer vaccines on a large scale, the sheriff’s office and fire department allowed the county to gauge the vaccination process. Over 200 employees at the sheriff’s office were vaccinated this past week, and Grimes said it was a good opportunity to use as a trial to see how to stagger wait times for the public.
Forsyth County’s IT Department has been working with the DPH helping assess issues and influx to its phone system.
“We are doing things a lot in the background to be able to help [the Department of Public Health],” Grimes said.
District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent asked about the authorization of the vaccine from the CDC. Grimes said the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have met the FDA emergency-use authorization.
He also reiterated statements from the DPH, saying after getting the first shot, people are still susceptible to contracting COVID-19. The second round of vaccines from Pfizer is recommended within 21 days of the first administration, and Moderna is recommended within 28 days.
“Just because we begin to vaccinate doesn’t mean we need to let our guard down,” Grimes said. “There are a lot of people that are going to need to get that vaccine before we’re going to really see … a decrease in the community transmission [of COVID-19]. So, wearing a mask, social distancing, those things will likely continue.”
The board asked Grimes about any adverse reactions to the vaccine that have occurred in Forsyth County. He said to his knowledge, he only knew of one case, and that the patient had a non-life-threatening reaction.
District 4 commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who was chosen as chairwoman during the meeting, expressed concern for teachers working in face-to-face settings. Grimes said, while he did not want to speak for the school system, there have been and will continue to be conversations about teachers receiving vaccines.
Grimes the Georgia Department of Public Health is in charge of vaccine distribution, not Forsyth County, and that plans are always subject to change as the DPH adapts its guidelines to feedback and logistics received from counties across the state.
“We have to work off of the state guidelines, so it will be looking at state-wide, how quick they’re moving through the populations that at that point they’re trying to get the vaccine to,” Grimes said.
Grimes will return to the BOC’s work session on Tuesday, Jan. 12 to update the board about any changes or new information that he has received from the Department of Public Health.
Once vaccination locations in Forsyth County have been approved and identified, information can be found on the Forsyth County News website or the Forsyth County’s website at www.forsythco.com.
Also during the meeting, District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper was elected to serve as vice chairwoman and District 2 Commissioner Alfred John will serve as secretary.