ELBERTON, Georgia – A small Georgia town was in shock Friday as state health workers raided the county’s busiest medical clinic in a few days and seized its Govt-19 vaccine supply as staff gave teachers a dose.
Some 470 shots of the Pfizer vaccine were confiscated From Elberton Medical Center, A private clinic that has provided the largest number of vaccines in Elbert County, leaving enough medicine to guarantee second doses to people who have already been vaccinated.
“Everything we’ve tried so far to vaccinate our district has been in vain,” Dr Jonathan Boone, who works at the clinic, told NBC News.
Furthermore, the Georgia Department of Public Health said it would not provide more vaccinations to the medical center for the next six months until July 27th.
“The DBH took action after the provider learned of vaccinating individuals in the Elbert County School District, which is currently out of the Phase 1A + eligible population.” The company said in a statement. “We said earlier that there was no other reason for the suspension.”
But in a letter to the center on January 29, the department gave no warning that it would capture the remaining footage on Tuesday.
“Moving out of the phases disrupts the allocation process and creates the possibility for many older citizens not to be vaccinated in a timely manner,” the department said. “After joining Georgia’s Govt Vaccine Program, you signed a Govt Vaccine Supplier Agreement stating that you and your practice do not violate any state or federal rules related to the program.”
In an interview, Dr. Chris Rustin of the Department of Public Health said they had no choice but to run the clinic.
“Going almost out of phase is something we can’t ignore,” he said. “We need to make sure that vaccinators understand that there are such limitations in our vaccine distribution and that we follow a clearly communicated plan.”
However, as recently as December 7, academics were considered by the government to be on that “essential group,” Boone said, adding that the public health department was able to vaccinate about 177 school staff before closing them.
“With the guidance of the state, we know that teachers are part of that committee,” he said. “So as soon as we were able to vaccinate the essential workers, we did.”
The first instruction they could have run out of state was Jan. 26, when the department said “we ask teachers if they have been vaccinated or not,” the doctor said.
“At the time, we believed it was part of the right practice, so we said yes,” Boone said. “And within 48 hours, the government issued a ruling that our vaccination status had been suspended and that we could no longer vaccinate individuals.”
The reaction of the community? “Shock,” he said.
Terry Claude, a teacher in Elbert County, was able to squeeze in his second shot just days before the department landed at the clinic. “I’m so lucky I didn’t have to worry about that,” he said.
He said he was shocked by the news of the trial and “did not agree with the state mandate that teachers should not be on the first wave of vaccinations.”
“Everyone loves their kids at school,” Claude said. “The way to keep them in school is to let our teachers vaccinate with older people and then go down and you know it.”
Marilyn Lord, 68, received her second dose at the clinic on Thursday, saying she would have happily vaccinated a teacher.
“Since retiring, I have the ability to stay away from the activities they do,” he said. “I like the kids at school, and I think the more security there is, the better.”
Lord also said the public health department had slandered the community by taking vaccines from the clinic.
“If anything went wrong, it should have been fixed,” he said. “The people here are not ready to do anything wrong. They have the best interest in the community. You know?”
Due to the shortage of vaccines, public health organizations and providers often have to make tough choices. Jennifer Gates, Kaiser Family Trust’s public policy expert told NBC News.
“Almost like one ‘Sophie’s Choice’ We have to choose between some of the seniors we know who are more likely to get sick and die if they are infected with the corona virus, or one of the leading workers we need in the community, ”he said.
DBH spokeswoman Nancy Naidam gave a 30-minute announcement on Tuesday that they were coming to the clinic to collect vaccines.
The Weekly Elberton Star newspaper That afternoon publisher Gary Jones was on his way to the press when he learned about the experiment.
“When I arrived, five unidentified people were in and around the TMCE’s precious Pfizer vaccine storage room.” Jones wrote on the newspaper’s website. “When I entered the area, my press badge was clearly visible. I walked up to two men who were part of a party of five and asked for their names. They refused to respond.”
Jones said two people were seen removing the clinic’s freezer vaccines and a woman named ID badge Leah Hofcker confirmed their presence by “DBH authority.”
Hofcker, according to his center profile, is a medical counter-program manager in the public health department, and his job is to distribute vaccines and medications during public health emergencies. Naidam said all the state health workers involved in the test are members of the department’s vaccine distribution team.
When department investigators defended the vaccines, Jones wrote, video center office manager Brooke McDowell videotaped what was happening.
“Shortly after I arrived, Hofcker asked McDowell to sign a document that the TMCE would ‘voluntarily’ allow this party to remove the extreme cold freezer vaccines,” Jones wrote. “McDowell refused to sign the document.”
Jones said he asked public health workers if they had a warrant or court order and that clinic staff were “crying” and “begging” them not to take the vaccine.
At the time the department staff seemed to be reconsidering the removal of vaccines, Jones wrote. But after he returned to the newspaper to oversee the release of the new edition, Jones said he received information that department staff had removed the vaccines from workers on campus.
Jones told NBC News I am filing an open registration request with the state to identify other department employees who “ran rudely at the clinic”.
Elberton’s medical center has appealed for the suspension to be revoked, saying it did not knowingly violate any of the rules and regulations, and accused NBC of making the mistake of “not being clarified from the state.”
The confiscated vaccines were redistributed to five other providers in rural Elbert County on the South Carolina border, with an additional 2,100 doses, the Department of Public Health said.
One of them is Madness Pharmacy in Elberton, where owner Dan Byla said Local NBC News Affiliate They say they currently vaccinate about 50 people a day and do not understand the seizures levels from the clinic.
“For me, this is a kind of issue,” he said. “Like, why don’t you take the fire trucks out of the fire station and put the fire trucks somewhere else?”
Recipients of the confiscated vaccines are Elbert County Health Department, Elbert Memorial Hospital, Medling and local Inks grocery store.
The GPH said it supported his decision to suspend Elberton Medical Center and that Elbert County residents would have adequate local access to the vaccine.
Under Georgia’s guidance, teachers are ineligible for the vaccine, whether they are health workers, first responders or 65 and over.
But Elberton’s medical center began vaccinating school staff last month after giving high-priority workers “but before vaccinating seniors.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution Announced in January.
“We’re not going to leave it on the shelf to destroy it,” McDowell told the newspaper last month. “The governors told us to put them in the guns. That’s what we do.”
Many of the 3,000 or more children enrolled in the district do not have internet service because it allows for virtual learning and relies on schools for food, said clinic Dr. J. Daniel McAvoy told the newspaper.
“So we found it very important to vaccinate our school teachers, and we went out and did it,” McAvoy said. “Then we looked at the guidance.”
His spokesman, Russell Reid, said Andrew Clyde, a newly elected Republican, declined to comment on the vaccine confiscation.
The Covit-19 vaccine is already available to teachers in 25 states via Washington, D.C., Kindergarten to High School, although in some of those states it is limited to selected districts. New York Times Survey Vaccine eligibility rules.
In a separate NBC news survey, the authors found that 22 different states were eligible for the Govt-19 vaccine.
However, Georgia has nothing on this list.
Staff sat in a building near the clinic, which has become a vaccination center, and Boone inspected an empty waiting room, showing a stable but socially remote, patient appointment in the days leading up to the test.
“It breaks the heart,” the doctor said. “We’ve been trying to do this successfully for the last few months.”
Initially, Boone said, they invested 000 7,000 from their own pockets on an expensive freezer capable of storing vaccines because they wanted to be part of the infection solution.
“We were humble,” he said. “We weren’t expecting a damn back, we thought it was part of the plan.”
Kosk reported from Strickler, Elberton, Washington, D.C., Kawasuti, New York City, and Seemasco, Montclair, New Jersey, Georgia.