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Chatham officials prepare to expand COVID-19 vaccinations to educators
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is planning to increase inoculation eligibility statewide on March 8
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Dr. Lawton Davis, the Coastal Health District health director, presents a COVID-19 response update to the Chatham County Commission on Feb. 26. - photo by Nick Robertson
Following Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s Feb. 25 announcement that the COVID-19 vaccine will soon become available to teachers, school staff, adults with disabilities and their caregivers, and parents of children who have complex medical conditions, Chatham County officials are preparing to expand inoculation efforts to include area residents who fall under these new eligibility categories.

Kemp said that he expects this inoculation expansion to begin on March 8. According to Dr. Lawton Davis, the Coastal Health District health director, when the vaccine does become available to teachers and school staff in Chatham County, local officials plan to stagger the administration of shots to educators to help prevent disruptions to class schedules.

“Some [teachers] are going to have side effects and be out of school,” Davis said during his biweekly COVID-19 response update at the Feb. 26 Chatham County Commission meeting. “We may be interrupting school somewhat to vaccinate.”

Prior to March 8, Georgia remains in Phase 1A+ of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, meaning that it is only available for residents aged 65 and up, caregivers for the elderly, healthcare workers, and first responders. However, Davis noted that in Chatham County and across Georgia, demand for first-dose vaccinations has “seen some dropoff” since early February, likely leading to Kemp’s decision to expand inoculation eligibility.

Davis added that he expects vaccine supply to increase soon after the anticipated approval of Johnson & Johnson’s new single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Nonetheless, Davis encouraged anyone who is eligible for inoculations to jump at the chance to receive vaccination shots.

“We’re not sure what our vaccine supply will be,” Davis said. “If you have the opportunity to get a vaccine, get it.”

Additionally, Davis lauded a new initiative spearheaded by St. Joseph’s/Candler to organize pop-up vaccination centers at Chatham County churches in an effort to increase inoculations among local minority communities. In February, these pop-up clinics were held at Savannah’s Saint Philip Monumental AME Church and Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship, according to a St. Joseph’s/Candler spokesperson, and the effort is planned to continue into springtime.

Meanwhile, the level of COVID-19 infection rates remains troubling in Chatham County, according to Davis, with the average daily number of new confirmed cases rising locally since mid-February.

“We still have very high levels of transmission going on,” Davis said, adding that Chatham residents remain under threat of a mutated coronavirus variant, which has been reported in neighboring South Carolina. “I’m sure that it is here, but we haven’t had a report of a confirmed case.”