March 9 COVID-19 Community Update: Changes to Georgia’s vaccine distribution plan and Emory’s response

By Amir St. Clair, associate vice president and executive director of COVID-19 response and recovery | March 9, 2021

View the March 4 COVID-19 town hall, the latest in an ongoing series of virtual Emory community conversations providing updates and information about vaccines.

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Emory Forward

Since the beginning of the vaccine rollout, Emory has had multiple teams working hard to prepare and support a comprehensive distribution model – including a university vaccine planning group. Since our plan is dependent on the state’s directive and new changes were recently announced in Georgia, I wanted to update the community on how this impacts Emory’s planning.

On Feb. 25, Gov. Brian Kemp made an announcement that included two primary changes to the state’s distribution model with regard to the COVID-19 vaccine. On Monday, March 8, the state expanded eligibility beyond individuals 65+ and their caregivers, health care workers, residents of long-term-care facilities, first responders, fire personnel and law enforcement. 

As listed on the Georgia Department of Health website, those now qualifying for vaccination include Pre-K–12 educators and staff, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers, and parents of children with complex medical conditions. If you meet any of these new criteria, you are now eligible and should consult the Emory Forward website’s vaccine page for additional information on these eligibility groups, vaccination locations in Georgia and how to register through Emory.

In addition, the state will no longer use tiers such as 1A and 1B to identify current and future groups eligible for vaccination. Instead, Georgia will list only those groups currently eligible to receive the vaccine. 

What does this mean for Emory?

Emory rolled out a new process to help facilitate vaccine distribution for those who became eligible on March 8. Eligible faculty, staff and students can now complete a self-attestation form on the Emory Forward vaccine page verifying your eligibility.  Once you have self-attested, you will move through the process and receive further notification from the HOME system to complete your consent and schedule your vaccination. 

Be aware, though, that demand continues to outstrip supply. Even for those eligible, receiving the vaccine is dependent on supply.

Dr. Nicole Franks, chief quality officer and attending physician at Emory University Hospital Midtown, reminded us — in the March 4 vaccine town hall — of why we have eligibility criteria, saying, “Honor those most vulnerable. Those qualifying now are at higher risk, so we want to ensure that we don’t overload our systems and our ability to take care of everyone.” 

We naturally are all looking to the future and the moment it will be our turn. As you wait, thank you for your continued patience and understanding. Continue to wear a face covering, wash your hands and physically distance. For those who have received the vaccine, thank you for doing your part to protect yourself and the community.

Franks also reviewed the existing vaccines and shared an important conclusion: although there are differences in the platforms used and the dosing required, the most important outcome is that all of them are highly efficacious in preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.  

What should be our takeaway? When you have an opportunity to receive a vaccine, take the first one offered to you!

Will Emory mandate the COVID-19 vaccine?

Given that the vaccines currently are under an emergency-use authorization, they will not be mandated with this status, even though there is every indication they are safe. Additionally, since vaccine availability is still limited both in Georgia and across the country, we would not mandate something still inaccessible to many in our community. Once the vaccines receive full FDA approval and are widely available, that could change. We will explore this matter further going forward. 

Finally, Emory is working toward vaccinating all essential workers, which includes maintenance and facility workers, those supporting critical functions, our frontline staff and all other members of our vulnerable populations. For those who don’t yet qualify under the state’s guidelines, we are continuing to advocate for them. That is who Emory is and what we stand for.