Georgia medical center suspended from COVID-19 vaccine program

Staff at Valley Healthcare System in Columbus receive COVID-19 vaccine
Staff at Valley Healthcare System in Columbus receive COVID-19 vaccine((Source: WTVM))
Updated: Jan. 28, 2021 at 7:18 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The COVID-19 vaccine is hard to come by in Georgia.

We’ve gotten many questions into the WTOC newsroom about how some have gained access over others. And who is checking to make sure those who receive the vaccine are eligible under state health guidelines?

The state health department is investigating complaints about providers giving the vaccine to those who are not eligible. And for the first time, the state took action against a vaccine provider.

An investigation found the provider vaccinated several school teachers who did not fall in the 1A+ category. As a result, the state has cut off the provider from any future vaccine shipments.

The Georgia Department of Public Health has agreements with vaccine providers across the state.

It essentially says that they will follow the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

But if DPH determines a provider has violated that agreement - such as vaccinating people who are not currently eligible under the state’s plan - then it can rescind the agreement, effectively cutting off vaccine shipments to that provider.

That’s exactly what happened to the Medical Center of Elberton in North Georgia. On Tuesday, DPH suspended the center for six months from its COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the state made the decision after it confirmed several people who work in the Elbert County School District received the vaccine outside of the Phase 1A+ criteria.

Phase 1A+ only allows for healthcare workers, nursing home staff and residents, those over 65 and their caregiver, and law enforcement. It does not include teachers.

The Medical Center says it vaccinated about 170 teachers.

DPH says it was able to confirm some of those individuals were not eligible after it reviewed vaccine records on file with the state’s immunization registry known as GRITS.

WTOC talked with a spokeswoman from the Medical Center who says they are appealing the suspension, and she explained why the state says those teachers didn’t meet the 1A+ criteria.

“They say that they are not considered essential workers and early on we did perceive them as essential workers,” said Brooke McDowell, Practice Administrator for Medical Center of Elberton. “It’s not that we disagree. They were very vague early on and so that’s how we interpreted those guidelines.”

We want to point out, essential workers are included in the next phase, Phase 1B of the state’s plan.

However, many rural public schools in Georgia have remained open for face-to-face learning during the pandemic.

In a statement the Department of Public Health says, the facility can use the remaining vaccine it has available and that it can use it to administer the second dose.

DPH went on to say it “maintains the highest standards for vaccine accountability to ensure all federal and state requirements are adhered to by all parties, and vaccine is administered efficiently and equitably.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health keeps a list of providers and how many vaccines each has ordered and received. You can view that list on their website. Just scroll below the status dashboard and download the PDF attached to the “Vaccine Orders list.”

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