To get the students back to school, a medical center in rural northeast Georgia decided to allow teachers, bus drivers and cafeteria workers from a local district to be vaccinated.
The law cost the Elberton, Georgia facility its entire vaccine supply.
On Thursday, the Medical Center of Elberton announced that the Georgia Department of Health would suspend all supplies of the vaccine to the facility for six months.
The center violated guidelines by sponsoring people who were ineligible, the state agency said in a statement to WYFF, noting that the current phase of the state only allows healthcare workers, employees and residents of long-term care facilities, residents over 65 Years and older includes law enforcement.
The move has angered community members and medical center staff, who argue that the state is penalizing not just the facility but the entire community.
“I’m pretty upset about it because we’re a close community,” Brooke McDowell, administrator at the medical center, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Our community depends on us to vaccinate them, and our state decided to suspend our privileges during a pandemic.”
There have been more than 890,000 cases of Covid and more than 13,800 deaths in Georgia, according to the Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker. As of Thursday, there have been 2,067 cases of the virus and 43 deaths in Elbert County. Georgia has so far given nearly 660,000 first doses of the vaccine, according to the Post’s Vaccine Tracker. Almost 90,000 people are fully vaccinated.
Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp pushed back after nearly a dozen superintendents from Atlanta school districts signed a letter this week asking him to give teachers and educational staff the vaccine. The governor said the state has not yet received enough doses to absorb them.
Studies have shown that distance learning has left students emotionally stressful. It was especially difficult for children in low-income families or for children with special needs, learning disparities, or social struggles. It is also difficult for children who thrive on routine and social interaction that personal schooling provides.
There has also been an increase in teenage suicides. Earlier this week, a Nevada school district announced that it had voted to bring students back for face-to-face lessons after 19 students committed suicide within nine months, CNN reported.
Many children in Elbert County, which is home to about 20,000 people, live in low-income households, McDowell told WYFF. Almost 30 percent of the people in the county live below the poverty line, almost twice as much as the state. Many students do not have internet access at home, making distance learning almost impossible and making face-to-face teaching more urgent.
“Research clearly shows the benefits of in-person tuition. A number of harm reduction measures are required to continue offering this option,” Elbert County’s superintendent Jon Jarvis said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“We are grateful for our local emergency management team and the Medical Center of Elberton who have been working closely with our school district since September to develop a vaccination schedule that is tailored to the needs of our community.”
Georgia health officials first learned of the medical center’s decision to vaccinate teachers Tuesday and prompted them to open an investigation. After confirming the teachers had received vaccines, the department announced that it would suspend vaccines for the center until July 27.
Some teachers blew up the state because of the move.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” David Bennett, a high school drama teacher, told WSB-TV. “I believe in giving us the protection we need to do the tasks we have to do every day.”
The medical center is one of five facilities in the county listed as administrators of vaccines according to a government agency database compiled by the Georgia Department of Public Health. It received most of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine doses in Elbert County.
McDowell told the Associated Press that the Medical Center of Elberton has vaccinated approximately 170 school system employees from more than 1,200 doses given to date. In a statement, the facility said there were enough doses left to provide second vaccinations for those who received their first dose and hope the punishment will be “temporary”.
The medical center has appealed the state’s decision. It is unclear if or when they will receive a decision.