COVID-19 vaccines suspended at The Medical Center of Elberton

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The Medical Center has already sent the Georgia Department of Public Health a letter of appeal 

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  • The Medical Center of Elberton's Practice Administrator Brooke McDowell talks to a WYFF 4 camera crew outside The Medical Center Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Jones)
    The Medical Center of Elberton's Practice Administrator Brooke McDowell talks to a WYFF 4 camera crew outside The Medical Center Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Jones)
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The Medical Center of Elberton’s (TMC) COVID-19 vaccine supply has been suspended for six months after the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) conducted an investigation after being notified TMC had vaccinated teachers in the Elbert County School District. 

“DPH was notified Jan. 26, 2021 that the facility vaccinated individuals in the Elbert County School District who were outside of the current Phase 1A+ eligible population,” DPH Spokesperson Nancy Nydam said in an email. “Following an investigation and a verification of vaccine administration through GRITS (Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services), the information received by DPH was deemed factual.” 

Nydam said DPH notified TMC of its suspension Jan. 27, effective immediately. The suspension will last for six months and end July 27. During the suspension, TMC will not receive any COVID-19 vaccine shipments but will be able to keep the facility’s existing supply. 

Brooke McDowell, a practice administrator at TMC, said that the facility will administer second doses to patients who already received the first round of the vaccine. McDowell also said TMC “hope[s] to honor as many scheduled appointments for vaccines as we can but will need to re-evaluate our stock.” 

McDowell said an appeal letter from TMC has already been sent to DPH.

“We have written a letter asking to be reinstated,” said McDowell. “The basis of the appeal is that originally the guidelines were vague when we offered the vaccines to the Elbert County Board of Education. The guidelines are now more clear-cut and specific. In the letter, we asked the DPH to urgently process this appeal.”

McDowell said she and Elbert County Emergency Management Agency Director Chuck Almond, along with Elbert County Schools Superintendent Jon Jarvis, began planning who should be vaccinated as far back as September. TMC received word they would be getting vaccines in November and then received the vaccines and actually began vaccinating before the end of 2020.

Teachers who chose to get the vaccine received the first dose around Jan. 4 at TMC. Jarvis verified at The Elberton Star Thursday afternoon that teachers received their second and final doses Thursday afternoon. 

“Teachers have always been considered essential,” said McDowell. “We are in a rural community where we try to keep our schools open because we have a lot of children who get balanced meals from the school. One of the things we were trying to do is make schools safer for teachers.”

Jarvis, who issued a statement Thursday afternoon, said about 40 percent of the vaccines offered to its school system employees were used, which would mean approximately 400 doses (two doses per person) were administered.

“Our goal during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to provide the best possible education for our students through both in-person and distance learning options, which we have done all but six days since the school year began in August,” Jarvis said in the statement. “We are thankful for our local emergency management team and The Medical Center of Elberton which began working closely with our school district in September to develop a vaccination plan designed to meet the needs of our community. The Elbert County School District will continue in its commitment to work in partnership with our local health officials, teachers, staff and families to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our school district and community.”

McDowell said that TMC had administered the doses to the school system along with its program for administering doses to citizens 65 and over because the Elberton health facility had an adequate supply. On Thursday McDowell said TMC has a current supply of about 4,000 doses.

“We would never willingly, intentionally defy the state’s guidelines,” said McDowell. 

Almond, who has helped give COVID-19 guidance throughout the county since the beginning of the pandemic, said eligibility on who receives the COVID-19 vaccine has changed “what seems like every month or every week.” 

“It is my opinion that The Medical Center’s ultimate goal was to get as many people vaccinated appropriately in our community, and patients, to mitigate the spread of COVID, the spread of people getting sick, to provide a community continuity of operations,” Almond said. “The guidance hasn’t been clear as far as an actual directive, up until Jan. 11. I do think that The Medical Center has reasonably supported the community and tried to make sure everyone had an opportunity to be vaccinated in the guidelines of the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health.” 

According to the DPH website Thursday, Georgia is in Phase 1A+ of the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Plan, which includes “healthcare workers (including nurses, physicians, EMS, laboratory technicians, environmental services), long-term care facilities staff and residents, adults 65+ and their caregivers and law enforcement, fire personnel (including volunteer fire departments), dispatchers and 9-1-1 operators.” 

The next phase, 1B, will include “essential workers (non-healthcare) who perform job tasks across critical infrastructure sectors, ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health, safety, economic and national security.” 

According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website for recommendations and guidelines for COVID-19 phase allocations, “those who work in the education sector (teachers and support staff members)” are included under non-healthcare essential workers under Phase 1B.