By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Teachers, school staff and certain other vulnerable groups in Georgia will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting on March 8, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.
Vaccines will be available for pre-K and K-12 school teachers and staff, Kemp said. Georgia adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as the parents of children who have complex medical conditions, will also be eligible on March 8.
Kemp traced his decision to expand vaccines to teachers on encouraging signs of increasing vaccine production from the Biden administration and the new Johnson & Johnson-brand vaccine that won high safety marks from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week.
“Today, we will be taking another step to protect the most vulnerable and get Georgia back to normal,” Kemp said at a news conference Thursday.
Professors and staff at Georgia colleges and universities will not be on the March 8 list of newly eligible vaccine recipients since they are “dealing with an older population” of adult students who have more options to avoid infection than teachers of younger students in grades pre-K through 12, Kemp said.
The governor stressed he wants all Georgia public schools to return for in-person classes before year’s end as teachers are vaccinated, saying online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic have dampened students’ education progress for too long.
“Virtual schooling is leaving too many children behind and parents at their wits’ end,” Kemp said. “We must have students back in the classroom, five days a week.”
The upcoming vaccine expansion for teachers drew praise from State School Superintendent Richard Woods, who called it a critical step in returning Georgia kids to in-person schooling.
“This is an important step in ensuring all Georgia students have access to in-person instruction and ensuring the safety of students, staff and families,” Woods said. “It has been an incredibly challenging year for educators and families alike, but I believe we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Teachers and other soon-eligible groups will join health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders and Georgians ages 65 and older who have qualified for the vaccine for several weeks.
Kemp noted Georgia has doled out nearly 1.9 million vaccines so far, including to more than 800,000 people ages 65 and older who have received at least one of the needed two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Newly eligible teachers and other Georgians clambering for the vaccine could still face headaches in scheduling appointments for their shots given the state’s limited allotment, Kemp said. Currently, state officials are receiving 198,000 doses a week from the federal government.
“We will continue to see more demand than supply,” Kemp said.
If all goes well with the March 8 rollout to teachers, Kemp said he will move to expand vaccine eligibility again in late March to additional groups that tend to be more vulnerable to contracting the virus.
Local school administrators will be largely left to their own to decide how teachers and staff should receive their shots, including whether to host vaccines on-campus at their schools, Kemp said.
State officials are also working with hospitals and health clinics to decide which parents with children who have complex medical conditions will receive the vaccine, said Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.
“We are doing that in conjunction with providers who care for those children,” Toomey said on Thursday.
Officials stressed Georgians should go ahead and pre-register now for a vaccine appointment on the state’s sign-up website, even if they are not yet eligible. The website, https://myvaccinegeorgia.com/, will automatically alert people once they’re eligible and will schedule an appointment.
Roughly 812,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Thursday afternoon, with nearly 185,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 14,989 Georgians.