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Kemp Set To Announce Plans To Vaccinate Teachers, Others

Paul Hinchey, president and CEO of St. Joseph's/Candler health system, based in Savannah, joined “Closer Look” to share his perspective on equitable vaccine distribution.
Paul Hinchey, president and CEO of St. Joseph's/Candler health system, based in Savannah, joined “Closer Look” to share his perspective on equitable vaccine distribution.
Credit john bazemore / associated press
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After weeks of waiting and political pressure, Gov. Brian Kemp is ready to announce that teachers are up next for COVID-19 vaccinations in Georgia.

Kemp spokesperson Mallory Blount said Wednesday the Republican governor will announce vaccination plans that will include teachers on Thursday. She also said Kemp would include other “vulnerable Georgians.”

“Throughout vaccine distribution, the governor has prioritized protecting the most vulnerable and returning Georgians to normal,” Blount said. “Further details will be announced tomorrow.”

A Thursday announcement is unlikely to mean that shots for teachers will start Friday. Kemp also has faced pressure to open vaccinations to people with disabilities and frontline workers like those who work in poultry processing plants. Even among educators, he will have to decide whether to include preschool teachers and college teachers among those eligible to be vaccinated.

Right now, anyone 65 and older is eligible for vaccination, as well as emergency workers, health care workers, and employees and staff of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. The state is currently getting about 200,000 doses a week, although that could rise a little if federal officials give permission to use a third vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson.

Officials have said they expect vaccine supply to expand significantly in April. But opening the gates to many more groups could prompt a rush like the one that was seen when Kemp made everyone over 65 eligible in mid-January, when there were many complaints about the difficulty of scheduling an appointment.

Georgia has administered more than 1.8 million doses according to the Department of Public Health data, with nearly 1.2 million people getting a first dose and 650,000 people completing a second booster dose. The state is nearing 1 million test-indicated COVID-19 infections and crossed 17,000 confirmed and probable deaths Wednesday.

“I’m sure they want to talk about it,” said John Zauner, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, noting Kemp had gotten multiple letters and petitions from superintendents, school board members and other groups.

The governor at one point said he felt school leaders were deflecting pressure over how their districts were handling COVID-19 onto him by focusing on vaccinations. A northeast Georgia medical practice that disobeyed state guidelines and vaccinated teachers from the local school system had its supply of vaccines suspended for six months, prompting protests that the state was overreacting and being unfairly punitive.

Some teachers have been driving to Alabama, where educators have been eligible for vaccination since Feb. 8, and now to Tennessee, where teachers became eligible on Monday.

“I know a colleague who went,” said Georgia Association of Educators President Lisa Morgan. “It’s not that long of a drive.”

One teacher group, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, released a survey Wednesday showing that two-thirds of nearly 9,000 respondents want to get the vaccine. The survey isn’t scientific because people chose whether to respond on their own instead of as part of a random sample.

Among respondents, educators who are older or higher risk were more interested in getting vaccinated, as were educators in metro Atlanta.

A Georgia Department of Education survey of school districts only showed 45% of respondents, or fewer than 80,000, wanted to receive vaccines. Kemp said that indicated “there’s not as much demand as some may have thought.”

One key question will be whether there are dedicated sources of vaccines for teachers, like in-school clinics, to keep them from having to compete with the general public for appointments. In the state survey, 122 districts and 24 charter and special schools said school nurses could give shots to employees. But 97 districts and 30 charter schools and districts said they would need additional help to give vaccines. A majority of districts said they have had talks with a local provider.