ATLANTA — As of Wednesday, only 43% of Georgians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Fifty percent of Georgians haven't received a single COVID-19 vaccine dose.
However, Gov. Brian Kemp believes the state's vaccination rate could receive a boost after Pfizer's vaccine recently received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
"Opinion polling out there of the folks that are unvaccinated, three in 10 of them are saying if there was full approval they would get the vaccine, so I hope that is the case," Kemp said. "We are ready to administer it."
During an interview with 11Alive, Kemp maintained his longtime position that statewide vaccine and mask mandates will only further divide Georgians. Instead, he said he wants unvaccinated Georgians to have a conversation with their doctor about the shots.
The governor also said he knows medical professionals are frustrated by low vaccination numbers leading to crowded hospitals in all parts of Georgia.
The governor said more than 90% of COVID patients in the hospital are unvaccinated.
"And there have just been some tragic losses of school teachers, principals, sheriff's deputies, community and family leaders that have fallen to the virus, and unfortunately they were unvaccinated," the governor said.
Kemp suggested there is a reason for some level of optimism though. He said data suggests the pandemic could be improving in parts of Georgia.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed, we are starting to see a few bright spots in places around the state around the state where they may be peaking," Kemp said. "So we are hopeful things will turn relatively soon, but regardless of what happens we are going to be in the fight."
For the Republican governor, that means sending help to assist exhausted and understaffed hospitals. Last week Kemp pledged $125 million in funding to add 1,500 staff members to hospitals around Georgia.
The move won't solve the issue of crowded hospitals, but Kemp said some of the necessary extra staff is already on the job, having an impact.
"If you're in one of those hospitals that needs the help, even if you're getting two or three more people, it is making a big difference, especially in our smaller more rural hospitals and that is where we are focusing," Kemp said.
Tuesday he announced 105 medically trained National Guard personnel will also be assisting and would focus on the high volume of incoming patients.
"These guard folks are going to help with the logistics of getting people into the hospital so we can turn the ambulances around quicker, so they can go to the next call," Kemp said. "That is specifically what we are doing with the guardsmen."
To reach the point of having more than four in 10 Georgians fully vaccinated, the state, federal and private businesses working together relied on mass vaccination sites.
When interest in vaccinations dipped, those efforts ended.
But with vaccinations again trending upward recently, Kemp said the return of mass vaccination sites isn't off the table.
"We will let the market dictate that, but we will do whatever we can to help with that situation from a state perspective," the governor commented.