NORTH METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — While COVID vaccine distribution continues to roll out across the state, healthcare experts are cautioning this is no time to let up.
The warning comes as Gov. Brian Kemp outlined the second phase of vaccine rollout to long-term care facilities.
Speaking at a press conference Dec. 28 in Gainesville, Kemp said sections of the state continue to see a spike in COVID cases, and he urged all Georgians to remain vigilant.
“COVID-19 is still here, and it still presents a threat to the people of our great state,” Kemp said. The state is working to set up temporary facilities at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta to help relieve patient surges at hospitals, he said.
Meanwhile, local healthcare workers have been lining up to receive their vaccinations to continue their frontline service.
Dr. Lori Randall, a physician with Ravry Medical Group in Sandy Springs, said she received the Moderna vaccine Dec. 29, and she expects to receive the second dose in about four weeks.
Randall is part of the Northside Hospital System and was notified through email of her eligibility.
The Roswell resident is a general practitioner at Ravry and treats an array of ailments. Right now, she said, the practice is handling clients with COVID or who have exposure to the virus through telemed. The vast majority of all other patients are seen in person, with staff and visitors donning masks.
“I do think the universal masking in healthcare that kicked in maybe a couple of weeks into the pandemic, that definitely helped a ton,” Randall said. “The non-urgent healthcare places that were staying open early on where masking was not universal were having some issues with patients and healthcare workers getting infected, but that has gotten a lot better.”
Randall said Ravry has had no issues with patients or staff contracting the virus, although they do offer telemed to patients who want to exercise added caution.
Receiving the vaccine has not moved her to let her guard down.
She said there are countless reasons to continue safety protocols even after vaccination.
While both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are effective, 95 percent is not perfect, she said.
“If healthcare workers are unmasked, then up to 5 percent of us could end up getting symptomatic COVID infection,” she said.
A bigger issue, Randall said, is that there is no data on whether those vaccinated can transmit the virus. Best estimates now are that when 70 percent of the population is vaccinated, the risk of transmission will fall dramatically, she said.
Her family will have to wait for their turn.
“For now, I have boys that are 3 and 5, I have a husband that works from home…and for us, in terms of getting back to normal, doing the things we miss, it’s going to be a while.”
Dr. Asma Agad, a certified nurse anesthetist with Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital in Sandy Springs, was part of a team of specialists who prepared the Pfiser vaccine for distribution to healthcare workers. The Alpharetta resident received her vaccine last week.
Agad said Emory had set up an efficient system composed of certified professionals for unpacking, preparing and administering the vaccine. The product, which must be kept at or below -76 F, first must be thawed, then diluted before being administered. The whole process, following thawing, can take no more than six hours, Agad said.
She estimates Emory Hospital System was performing more than 2,000 vaccinations a day, running from early morning into the evening.
“My fear is people are assuming that with the vaccine, you don’t have to wear a mask, you still don’t have to do the precautions,” Agad said. “But the vaccine is only 95 percent effective, and you can still get COVID with the vaccine. I think the public should be educated about that.”
By the time the vaccine rolls out for general distribution, she said, she hopes everyone will be on board with continuing the safety protocols.
“I’ve had people ask me why do you still wear a mask?” she said. “Well, I’ve only gotten the one dose, and I could still get COVID, and I could still pass it easily to you. I don’t want people to get the vaccine and feel like [they] don’t need to wash hands or wear a mask.”