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One Georgia public health district pausing new COVID-19 vaccine appointments

As state receives increased allotment of doses, Governor Kemp's spokesman says the volume doesn't 'significantly change the current shortage' compared to demand.

ATLANTA — Demand for the COVID-19 vaccine doses continues to outpace supply in Georgia, according to a spokesman for Governor Brian Kemp.

Cody Hall, Kemp's director of communications, said Cobb and Douglas Public Health has paused making appointments. Meanwhile, 11Alive found several public and private health providers Monday who said they aren't having to pause new appointments.

"Providers are currently having to pause appointments given the lack of adequate vaccine supply shipped to the state ... Our weekly allotment is still 146,000 and we have no reason to believe we will get any allotment increases within the current three-week period outlined by the Biden administration," Hall said in an email.

Currently, Georgians in the 1A+ category are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, which accounts for more than 2 million people.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced states would begin to receive increased weekly allotments of COVID-19 doses. For Georgia, the increase represents 26,000 doses, in addition to the state's previous 120,000 weekly allotments of doses. 

To meet demand though, Hall said more is still needed.

"The additional vaccines are certainly welcome news, but 26,000 additional vaccines spread over 159 counties and 18 public health districts will not significantly change the current shortage of vaccine supply relative to demand," Hall said in the email to 11Alive. 

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The Cobb and Douglas Public Health district detailed the pausing of appointments on its website, "At this time, Cobb & Douglas Public Health is pausing the scheduling of COVID-19 vaccine appointments," the update reads.

 "We are doing this to ensure adequate vaccine supply for the currently scheduled appointments," it added. "According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, vaccine supply is limited, and the State of Georgia only receives what the federal government allocates. If you have a scheduled appointment to receive your first or second dose, you will not be affected by this change unless you have been contacted."

However, the posting doesn't state when the health district representing Cobb and Douglas counties will resume making appointments.

Other public and private providers in the Atlanta metro area continue to open and fill appointments.

DeKalb County Board of Health spokesman Eric Nickens wrote 11Alive by e-mail, "No, that isn’t taking place in DeKalb. We actually opened approximately 1,500 appointment slots on Friday evening around 5:45 p.m. Those were all taken within an hour."

Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale Health spokesman Chad Wasdin wrote, "At this time, GNR isn’t pausing any first doses. We tightly manage the vaccine we receive. We prioritize second-dose appointments; however, we do not foresee having to pause first-dose appointments anytime soon."

On Tuesday around 6 a.m., Publix announced that people eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to make an appointment at one of 97 select Publix pharmacies around Georgia. Appointments will begin starting on Feb. 4 and must be made online.

Publix hasn't announced how many appointments will be available, but last week the grocery store chain accepted appointments for 14,100 vaccine doses and the openings were filled in under an hour.

RELATED: Publix announces new appointments, plans for additional COVID-19 vaccines

Alongside Publix, Kroger confirms with 11Alive it will soon have more openings as well. 

 "We expect additional vaccines will be available in all of our Georgia stores this week and will open appointments as soon as we receive the vaccines," A Kroger company spokeswoman said.

As at least one public health provider in Georgia pauses making appointments and others continue offering new openings, the Georgia Department of Public Health provided details of the spread of one COVID-19 variant in the state on Monday. 

There are at least 19 cases of the variant known as B.1.1.7 in Georgia, according to a press release from DPH. This is the same variant that was identified first in the U.K.

During a press briefing Monday with the White House COVID-19 Response Team, Dr. Anthony Fauci said while variants begin to spread around the country people should still seek out being vaccinated as soon as a dose is made available to them as it provides the best-known defense.

RELATED: Live now | White House response team, public health officials hold COVID-19 briefing

Fauci commented some studies have shown current vaccines are less effective against variants, but they still provide protection.

"That was shown by the Novavax study, which was done in the U.K. when they had a 90% efficacy and the dominate variant there was the (B) 1.1.7," he said.

Fauci said getting vaccinated quickly will also help slow the spread of the current dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S., along with any current variants.

"Viruses cannot mutate if they don't replicate," Fauci said. "And if you stop the replication by vaccinating widely and not giving the virus an open playing field to continue to respond to the pressures that you put on it, you will not get mutations."

Over the weekend Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who advised President Joe Biden's transition team on the pandemic appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and said the U.S. needs to "call an audible" on its current vaccination program."

"We still want to get two doses in everyone, but I think right now in advance of this surge, we need to get as many one doses in as many people over 65 as we possibly can to reduce the serious illness and deaths that are going to occur over the weeks ahead," Osterholm said on Meet the Press.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health numbers, 923,903 vaccines have been administered as of Sunday. The state has received 1,322,000 doses meaning 70 percent of doses received have been used. Over the last several weeks as the state has ramped up vaccination efforts the percentage of doses has continued to increase for the state. 

On Monday 11Alive's Joe Henke asked Fauci for the White House's position on whether states should be advised to focus on giving as many people as possible the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine versus two doses. Vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna require two doses weeks apart to achieve maximum protection as outlined in research from both companies' vaccine trials. 

RELATED: What kinds of side effects could there be to a COVID-19 vaccine?

"The priority will always be to get the people that have gotten their first doses, to get their second dose," Fauci said in response to Henke. 

"Then additional doses will be given to the next group of people who will get their first doses. In this way, there are no doses that are hanging around. A dose that is available is going to go into someone's arm. If a person is ready for their second dose that person will be prioritized," he added. "If a person hasn't gotten their first dose, but you've taken care of all of the second dose people then you go ahead with the first dose. That is the policy that we've had and that is working well now."

Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky supported Fauci's position and said the plan remains to follow the science from research trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. 

"Until we have further data we intend to follow the trials and use the science to say 21 days for two doses for Pfizer and 28 for Moderna."

    

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