The gradual roll-out of COVID vaccines in Georgia is exposing widespread public well being shortages

The Georgian Ministry of Health is working to get COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of eligible Georgians, but workers there are not getting a break from the work they had before the pandemic.

This is what Democratic Senator Michelle Au, a doctor from Johns Creek, found out when she was helping vaccinate people in Norcross for the health department over a weekend.

“They see how much else they have to do and it was Saturday so they weren’t quite up for this, but they do things for WIC, the women’s and children’s feed program. When handling other vaccines, all child vaccines are in the same refrigerator and essentially trying to be delivered, ”she said.

“So there are all these elements of the public health structure that are supposed to function in non-pandemic circumstances that do an admirable job but still lack the resources, and now we are stacking this huge task on top of that,” Au added.

Georgia has underfunded public health for at least a decade, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the problems it caused to the fore, said Laura Harker, senior policy analyst at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

To maintain the state’s per-person spending level in 2009, the total public health budget in 2020 must be $ 749 million, she said. Instead, lawmakers made $ 698 million available. Governor Brian Kemp’s spending plan for the next year is $ 691 million for the department.

“In the past 10 years since the Great Recession, it has definitely been necessary to keep up with our growing population and public health needs, but we have actually spent less per person since spending on public health funds during the last recession were cut and we didn’t really restore that, ”Harker said.

More money could be of great help to problems Georgia has faced since the pandemic, including high maternal mortality and prevalence of substance abuse and HIV infection, said Laura Colbert, executive director of the Georgians’ Nonprofit for a Healthy Future, but the state will do receive federal government money to fight COVID-19. The agency received more than $ 1 billion in COVID-19 relief on Jan. 15, and more is likely to come.

“It’s disappointing to see a flat public health budget, but I (balance) them getting extra dollars from Congress,” Colbert said. “The COVID-19 Relief Funds are specifically used to aid COVID-19, but government funding is needed to keep activities going on all of these other fronts like substance use, maternal mortality, and HIV.”

Static public health spending as the state’s population grows could be even more damaging as the pandemic prevents experts from working on the problems they know best, said Dr. Amber Schmidtke, public health microbiologist.

“Everyone who works in public health right now is working on COVID-19, even if it’s not their job,” she said. “The people who normally work on sexually transmitted diseases or HIV are reassigned to work on COVID issues. In the meantime, the other problems they were supposed to be there for won’t go away just because a pandemic occurs. “

The introduction of the vaccine has highlighted the underlying problems of the public health system. According to Beckers Hospital Review, Georgia was second only to Alabama in administering the amount of COVID-19 vaccines it received.

Toomey questioned the accuracy of some people vaccinated in the state, saying that some shots were not properly logged in the reporting system.

“When I checked this morning, the New York Times had only given us 203,000 vaccines in people’s arms,” ​​she told lawmakers at a state budget hearing Tuesday. “Well I know because I know what we did. And we looked at our numbers, we actually gave 451,169 doses, most of which were first doses because we’re just starting to switch to second doses. So there is a challenge in how the vaccinations are counted. We understand that our vaccination registry has not been used appropriately or accurately by all providers. We have developed strike teams to help the providers with this. “

From January 11-18, the Georgia Department of Health reported an increase from 206,900 to 423,011 vaccines administered. This is the second straight week that the state has doubled its vaccination numbers and is an encouraging sign, Governor Brian Kemp said.

“Thanks to the hard work of public health officials and the support of private sector partners such as Publix, Kroger, Ingles, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, we are making progress in vaccinating our expanded 1a populations,” Kemp said in a statement.

A new government in the White House could result in more COVID-19 vaccines in Georgians’ arms, Toomey said. She blamed outdated technology and inconsistent supplies for the state’s struggle to immunize residents.

“At this point, we often don’t know exactly from week to week how much vaccine will be available or when it will come,” she said. “With a mid-week dosing change, we anticipate that additional vaccine doses may be available in the coming days to weeks.”

Joe Biden, due to be sworn in as president Wednesday, has pledged to distribute 100 million doses of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office.

Health care workers, law enforcement workers, long-term care workers, and residents and adults over 65 are eligible for admission, but many were unable to make an appointment. Only 30% of residents and staff at the state nursing home have been vaccinated, Toomey said.

The state health department reported nearly 685,000 confirmed cases and nearly 47,000 hospitalizations as of Tuesday afternoon. More than 11,000 Georgians have died from COVID-19. Tuesday was the deadliest day in the state with 170 new deaths reported. The previous record of 157 deaths was set four days before January 15