ATLANTA — The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine made its way to the metro Atlanta area on Wednesday. Healthcare workers in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties received some of the first doses of the highly-anticipated vaccine.
The health director for the three-county health department, Dr. Audrey Arona, said they are now working with hospital groups in the area, including Northside and Piedmont, to make sure they have enough doses to meet their needs.
"When we heard we'd be one of the first sites in Georgia to get this, we were very excited," Dr. Arona said. "We should be -- because Gwinnett is a very large, populated area in our state. We felt like our initial shipment since we got it before everyone else, we really needed to share the doses with the hospitals."
Piedmont Healthcare and other health systems in the area were expecting their first shipment of vaccines on Thursday.
Chief consumer and strategic planning officer for Piedmont, Katie Logan, said her hospital applied for enough vaccines to cover everyone working there.
They know with this first shipment, Piedmont will have to prioritize their 11,000 high-risk frontline workers due to the initial low supply of vaccines. The problem is not knowing if its first allotment will cover all of those 11,000 high-risk workers.
"Not knowing the number here until the final hour has made it a challenge to execute our plans and figure out how we're going to roll this out and cover all of our folks but we know more will come," Logan said.
That, they will, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. According to the department, 84,825 doses, in all, are making their way to the state for the first phase of administration.
On Monday, 5,850 doses arrived in coastal Georgia. About 16,000 were expected to arrive in metro Atlanta on Wednesday. The remaining approximately 60,000 doses are expected to arrive in Georgia by the end of the week.
"We talked about it being the light at the end of this COVID tunnel," Logan said. "At a time when we're seeing the numbers rise again, it's perfect timing to be able to offer this to our healthcare workers."
But, this doesn't mean the nation will see a dip in COVID-19 numbers anytime soon, according to public health experts like Dr. Harry J. Heiman.
"I think at the same time we're celebrating the rapid development and deployment of the vaccine, we have to recognize that won't make a significant difference in our lives for at least 4-to-6 months," he said. "If we want to survive to celebrate the day most of us have access to that vaccine, we collectively have to do what's necessary to protect one another. We're on track to have more than 1,000 Georgians die in the next month and that number will only be increasing."
Heiman is the associate clinical professor at the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. He adds that he hopes the distribution plan going forward will equally reach the communities most affected by COVID-19.
"I have a number of concerns about ensuring that vaccines are equitably distributed and prioritized to some of our rural communities and to the high-risk urban communities, particularly black and brown communities that are being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic," Heiman said.