In December 2020, Gwinnett County received and began distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Since opening the mass vaccination center at Gwinnett Place Mall, over 70,000 vaccines have been distributed across the district including Gwinnett County, and more are coming! The CID had the opportunity to ask more about the vaccine efforts from Dr. Audrey Arona and her team at the Gwinnett, Newton, Rockdale County Health Departments. Read the conversation below.
How long did it take to get vaccines approved and shipped to Gwinnett?
Our Health Department has had the vaccine since late December 2020. Right after the EUA was approved for Pfizer, the Georgia Department of Public Health received and allocated doses to our health department. At the time we were one of the only health departments in the state to have the cold-storage freezer needed to hold the Pfizer doses. Having plans already in place, we started vaccinated individuals the very day we received the vaccine.
What is the current process for signing up, showing up, and receiving a vaccine?
Appointments typically open up once a week–usually midweek–on our website, www.gnrhealth.com/covid-vaccine-scheduling. This is currently the only way for the general public to make an appointment if they fall into one of the approved categories. We’re working with other vulnerable populations like senior centers and minority-based churches and community centers to try and reach older adults that may have trouble making appointments.
Once you have an appointment, we recommend arriving no earlier than ten minutes before your appointment. You should bring your ID and insurance card, if you have them. There is no cost for the vaccine. If you don’t have an ID, we recommend bringing proof of residence, like a utility bill, because we only vaccinate residents who live in Georgia.
It is important to be prepared to wait up to 30 minutes after your vaccine. We monitor all patients 15-30 minutes to watch for any reaction to the vaccine. This is the longest part of the process
How many vaccines have been distributed, and how many more are expected in the next month?
To date, we have given over 70,000 vaccines across our district due to the limited supply of vaccines currently. Currently, we have the capacity to do far more. We expect by the end of March to have a larger supply of the vaccine.
Who is distributing the vaccines at Gwinnett Place Mall? Volunteers, medical staff allocated from local hospitals, etc?
Our efforts at Gwinnett Place Mall are a community-wide effort. Of course, all of our health department employees participate in our vaccine efforts. We are fortunate to have the support of the medical reserve corps to help us. All volunteers come through the medical reserve corps, and we recommend anyone interested in volunteering to learn more about the organization. You don’t have to be in a medical role to volunteer. We also have support roles, like greeters and mobility support.
How many people can Gwinnett County vaccinate in one day? Are you hopeful that this number will increase?
Currently, our Health Department is vaccinating around 1500 people each day at Gwinnett Place Mall mass vaccination site. This site has the capacity to vaccinate up to 3000 people each day. Once we receive additional vaccine, we will be able to increase to that capacity.
Keep in mind there are other locations to find the COVID vaccine in Gwinnett County, including large-chain and small pharmacies, urgent cares and medical providers.
When do you hope to have everyone who wants the vaccine to have received one?
The limitation has been and continues to be vaccine supply. Once an adequate amount of vaccine is received, there will be ample opportunities for every person in Gwinnett County to receive theirs. Our hope is that everyone who is eligible will opt for and seek out the vaccine. This is the safest way to introduce immunity into our community.
What other large operations/distributions are you working towards? Any locations opening soon?
We have plans in place to deploy teams in mobile units to reach every corner of Gwinnett County. Once the vaccine is available throughout our county, we can focus our efforts on reaching parts of our community that can’t come to us. The mobile units will reach more individuals than another static clinic site.
Anything else you’d like to share about the vaccine?
We still have a long way to go before the vaccine is available to everyone. In the meantime (including if you’ve had the vaccine), we have to continue practicing all the measures we know will stop this virus. You know them by heart at this point: social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands often, avoid crowds, and stay home when you’re sick. Remember the variants we are seeing are more contagious, but the variants are still COVID. We know how to stop it from spreading.