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Georgia medical facility that gave COVID vaccines to teachers before state's OK suspended 6 months

The Medical Center of Elberton will be suspended from the COVID-19 Vaccination Program in Georgia, the department of public health said.

ELBERTON, Ga. — The Elbert County, Georgia medical facility that gave teachers in the county a COVID-19 vaccine - against the state's current guidance - has been barred from receiving any new shipments of the shots for the next six months.

The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed the move to 11Alive Wednesday night. 

According to DPH, it was notified on Jan. 26 that the Medical Center of Elberton "vaccinated individuals in the Elbert County School District who were outside of the current Phase 1A+ eligible population." That population includes frontline healthcare workers, emergency first responders, and those 65 and older and their caregivers. Teachers are not included in the phase.

"Following an investigation and a verification of vaccine administration through GRITS (Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services), the information received by DPH was deemed factual," DPH said in a statement.

READ THE ORIGINAL STORY: Georgia school district started vaccinating its educators before state guidance allowed for that

As a result, DPH said the Medical Center of Elberton will be suspended from participating in the state's COVID-19 Vaccination Program for six months. During the suspension, which ends on July 21, the facility will not be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine inventory for second dose administration to patients as applicable, DPH said. They will be able to, however, use its current supply.

"It is critical that DPH maintains the highest standards for vaccine accountability to ensure all federal and state requirements are adhered to by all parties, and the vaccine is administered efficiently and equitably," the agency said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Elbert County Superintendent Jon Jarvis told 11Alive his district had been talking about vaccinating employees since September. 

"It's hard to wear a mask when you're trying to teach students sounds," Jarvis explained. "The vaccination for teachers, bus drivers, school nutrition workers ... they should be considered in the first group in my opinion."

So, in early January, the east Georgia community did just that. The district of 3,000 students has more than 500 employees. A few weeks ago, 40% of them chose to get the vaccine, and more have wanted it since.

11Alive asked the school system for a response following the news of the suspension. On Thursday, the district provided the following statement: 

"The Elbert County School District continues to prioritize the safety and well-being of our teachers, support staff, and students. Our goal during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to provide the best possible education for our students through both in-person and distance learning options, which we have done all but six days since the school year began in August. Research clearly demonstrates the benefits of in-person instruction and continuing to offer that option requires a number of disease mitigation measures in place.   

We are thankful for our local emergency management team and The Medical Center of Elberton which began working closely with our school district in September to develop a vaccination plan designed to meet the needs of our community. The Elbert County School District will continue in its commitment to work in partnership with our local health officials, teachers, staff, and families to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our school district and community."