Kemp says he’s “not happy” with Georgia’s slow vaccine pace

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ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia ranks last among states for the share of available COVID-19 vaccines that it has administered, but Gov. Brian Kemp said the data is misleading as some hospitals have failed to report all the shots they’ve given.

Still, the Republican governor acknowledged Friday that the state is struggling with the vaccine rollout that has become his primary focus even as Georgia sets daily records for people hospitalized with the respiratory illness.

“Look, I’m not happy with it,” Kemp told reporters after giving an update on the state’s vaccine rollout. “I’m pleased with how hard everybody’s working, but I’m not happy with where we are, we got to keep moving the needle. We’re working on that every single day.”

Kemp said the state now has the capacity to administer 11,428 doses a day. At that rate, it would take more than two-and-a-half years to vaccinate every Georgia resident.

“Some of it is due to poor planning and execution of a mass vaccination strategy, if Georgia ever actually had one,” wrote Amber Schmidtke, an epidemiologist who reports daily on Georgia’s outbreak. “Instead, the responsibility for vaccinating a population of 10.6 million people has been pushed down to 18 underfunded public health districts, operating with a skeleton crew.”

Ryan Loke, Kemp’s healthcare adviser, said the state believed that a number of large hospital systems had failed to report how many people they have vaccinated, showing fewer than 100 vaccinations when they had received thousands of doses.

“I expect today you’re going to see a large uptick in the vaccine numbers over the course of the next week or so, getting caught up,” Loke said.

Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that as of late Thursday, Georgia had administered 104,000 of nearly 620,000 doses. On the number of doses distributed per capita, Georgia ranked ahead of only Mississippi, while Georgia had distributed a smaller share of available doses than any other state.

As of Friday afternoon, state Department of Public Health figures showed Georgia had administered nearly 136,000 of the 554,000 doses it had been shipped.

The struggles come even as the state is allowing people over 65 to be vaccinated starting Monday, leading to local health departments being overrun with people seeking appointments. In Savannah on Thursday, officials pleaded for patience, saying they could only take appointments by phone.

“The phones are just ringing non-stop. Hundreds of calls are coming through every 30 minutes,” Public Health employee Janie Guglielmi told WTGS-TV.

Kemp said the state would post information on how to make vaccine appointments on the state Department of Public Health’s website, although it wasn’t immediately clear when that would happen or what form the information would take.

The state will continue paying for testing at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities through June 30, Kemp said Friday, after spending $78 million on testing last year. He also said he was authorizing paramedics and cardiac technicians to join other health care workers already authorized to administer the vaccine.

The governor said the state continues to see large shares of healthcare workers refusing to be vaccinated.

“It’s really kind of unimaginable for me the people, that they’ve been fighting the frontline of this battle for so long, are reluctant to take the vaccine,” Kemp said. “But that’s just what we’re dealing with.”

The governor reiterated that he won’t impose any new restrictions, saying he felt other states that had cracked down on activities like indoor dining and bars haven’t fared any better.

“We’ve had other states that enacted new restrictions and their hospitals are still overflowing,” Kemp said.

In Macon, new Mayor Lester Miller issued an executive order aimed at slowing the spread of the virus by cracking down on large gatherings. It requests that the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office step up citations of large groups in bars, and threatens the revocation of alcohol licenses and closures for any bar that gets two tickets.

Georgia reported more than 5,500 COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide on Friday and has the fifth-highest per capita rate of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

More than 40 hospitals were turning away at least some patients on Friday afternoon according to the Georgia Coordinating Center, including nine of 11 hospitals in the Piedmont system and six of 10 hospitals in the WellStar system.

Total intensive care bed usage has been rising since October and was at 91% of capacity statewide on Friday, and above 95% in eight of the state’s 14 hospital regions. It was above 100% in regions in and around Athens, Augusta and Albany.

COVID-19 patients have been rising in Georgia hospitals for months while non-COVID patients have been falling since November. Kemp, though, said he believed hospitals are crowded because of non-COVID patients that hospitals need to treat to keep up their revenues. He said hospitals are “holding their own.”

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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