DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Georgia opened up its COVID-19 vaccine administration Monday, marking a substantial expansion in the number of people eligible to receive the vaccine. But the expansion is causing some headaches too.
Health officials call it Phase 1A+, which includes first responders, law enforcement and people over the age of 65. The sky high demand for the vaccine has led to long lines at drive-thru vaccination clinics in DeKalb County.
Its BrandsMart USA site, previously a COVID-19 testing center, has now become a full time drive-thru vaccination clinic.
Local department of public health websites are booking vaccination appointments almost immediately after they're posted, and some sites, like Cobb County's, have reportedly crashed because of how many visitors flock to the site.
With vaccine supply limited, county health officials are stressing patience to people trying to get one of the early doses.
"We know everyone wants the vaccine, but we plead with you for your patience," Eric Nickens, spokesperson for the DeKalb County of Public Health, said. "There’s only so much vaccine to go around right now. It’s still in limited supply, and we’re only going to open up more appointments once we determine we have more vaccine in place to be able to give shots.”
Nickens said DeKalb County opened up registration to book appointments Friday at Noon. By 10 p.m. Friday, DeKalb had more than 13,000 registrations, which prompted officials to pause registration. Appointments in DeKalb County have been booked for the rest of the week.
“People want to definitely hopefully get back to a sense of normalcy sooner than later," Nickens said. "This is one step in helping us get to that point.”
Nickens said DeKalb County had 8,500 doses of the vaccine, but warned those doses would be spent quickly on people in need of the vaccine. He said the county expected to receive shipments multiple times a week, but the shipments did not have a definitive schedule.
The state recently released a vaccination site locator in preparation of the rollout expansion.
Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat, a COVID-19 survivor, got his vaccine Monday at the Aviation Community Cultural Center. He urged people to follow the example first responders and law enforcement are setting by getting a vaccine of their own.
“With law enforcement, as much as we interact with community, it’s important that we be protected as well," Labat said. "We really want to focus on protecting our community. In 14, 15 days, people will have an example to toward and look forward. We have to lead. That’s our job.”
Gwinnett County health officials said the county moved to Phase 1A+ one week ago. Chad Wasdin, spokesperson for the Gwinnett County Department of Public Health, said the Lawrenceville Health Center, its biggest vaccination clinic, would expand its hours Wednesday's and Saturday's to accommodate as many as 1,000 vaccine recipients.
"Last week, we did over 4,000 appointments," Wasdin said. "Every time we released a bank of appointments I think the last bank was something like 2,000 appointments and they were gone in 25 minutes. There's just incredible demand on the system and incredible demand for the vaccine, which is very encouraging for us. We’re extremely thrilled people want to take the vaccine and we’re encouraging patience as we receive more vaccine.”