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Top Ga. health official takes vaccine, urges public trust

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Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey (right) receives the COVID-19 vaccine as Gov. Brian Kemp (left) watches on Dec. 17, 2020. (Kemp Twitter photo)

By Beau Evans
Staff Writer
Capitol Beat News Service

    Georgia’s top health official was among the first in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as initial doses rolled out in Atlanta and Savannah this week.
    Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, was inoculated during a news conference Thursday with Gov. Brian Kemp to bolster confidence in the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.


 
“This vaccine is safe, it’s effective, and it will be the tool to have so we can finally move back to what we think of as our Georgia lifestyle,” Toomey said. “But we need everyone’s help.”
 
Kemp said he’ll also get the vaccine after it has been administered to workers in hospitals and health departments, who are the first category of people to be inoculated as they continue battling a grueling spike in COVID-19 outbreaks this winter.
 
Officials like Kemp and Toomey are pushing to dispel doubts of whether the vaccine is safe following a speedy development timeline that has worried some portions of the population. Kemp said the vaccine is critical to ending the pandemic’s now nine-month reign in Georgia.
 
“The work done to develop the vaccine has been nothing short of a medical miracle,” he said. “This vaccine is safe, it is effective and it is now on the way to the people of this great state.”
 
The first COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out were developed with new technology that mimics the virus’ DNA to create immunity, not by injecting small amounts of virus as has traditionally been done with vaccines. That method helped developers produce the vaccine within months instead of years.
 
Recent test trials for the vaccines have shown they’re extremely effective in preventing sickness from the virus and only tend to cause headaches, arm pain around the injection and mild, temporary under-the-weather feelings as adverse reactions.
 
Georgia is slated to receive about 85,000 doses of the first vaccine by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that was approved for emergency use last week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
 
Another vaccine by pharmaceutical company Moderna is poised for emergency-use approval this week. Georgia officials expect to receive around 174,000 doses.
 
Those early shipments won’t be nearly enough for the millions of Georgians who each need to receive two doses spaced weeks apart. Public-health experts have estimated as much as 70% of the U.S. population needs to be inoculated to halt COVID-19’s spread.
 
Kemp urged Georgians to have patience with state officials tasked to distribute the vaccine in the coming months, first to health-care care workers and nursing homes where the virus has taken its deadliest toll, then to the general public by the summer of 2021.
 
“This is going to be a heavy logistical lift for the state,” Kemp said. “We have never undergone such a large vaccination campaign in our history.”
 
The governor also urged Georgians to keep wearing masks, social distancing and washing their hands this holiday season before the vaccine is more widely available, as positive cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 near peak levels seen in July.
 
For now, Kemp added he does not plan another statewide shelter-in-place order or other strict distancing measures seen in the pandemic’s early days.
 
“We’ve done this before,” he said. “Our guidance has hardly changed in a very long time.”
 
Around 500,000 people in Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic this year. As of Thursday, the virus had killed 9,358 Georgians.