The expansion of coronavirus vaccine eligibility next week to the public 65 and older created a high demand for appointments that overwhelmed the health department’s ability to keep up, officials said.
Since the North Georgia Health District announced earlier this week that it would begin taking appointment requests, demand has led to visitors to the health department’s website receiving error messages and telephone callers not getting an answer.
Because of the demand, department spokeswoman Jennifer King on Thursday announced the activation Friday of a hotline number, which some Cherokee County residents have already expressed frustration with.
“I called right at 8:30 a.m. and it rang for 30 minutes with no answer,” said Charlie Bonanno of Canton. “It’s a disgrace. At the very least they should put a recording on the line.” Another tribuneledgernews.com reader also reported not receiving an answer on the hotline number Friday morning. King said the online appointment option should be available again on Monday.
Interest in the vaccine also led to a flood of people showing up to the health department’s Woodstock office on Wednesday. In an effort to ensure that COVID-19 safety protocols are met and there are no crowds of people, King said that the crowd was dispersed, with registration information given to the residents.
King said online registration will resume on Monday at www.nghd.org, and that the toll-free number — 1-888-881-1474 — is currently the preferred method for registering. King added that residents must register for the county where they live or work. Walk-ins will not be accepted. Residents can also call the health department at 770-928-0133 for additional questions.
This newly expanded vaccination program is a part of the North Georgia Health Districts’s phase 1-A program, officials said. Starting Monday, residents 65 and older, as well as law enforcement and fire personnel, will be eligible to take part in vaccination phase 1-A, with a plan to expand the vaccination phase to other demographics over the next couple of months, officials said.
“Since we began our COVID-19 vaccination campaign in our health district on Dec. 18, our county health departments have vaccinated some of the most critically vulnerable people in our communities,” said Dr. Zachary Taylor, interim health director of the North Georgia Health District, based in Dalton. “Now we want to rapidly and effectively administer COVID-19 vaccine to even more members of our community.”
Scheduling is required to receive Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine by public health in North Georgia, which will be provided at no out-of-pocket expense. Health insurance plans will be accepted, if available.
Taylor said that the DPH is working this week to vaccinate medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities, and that the health department office at 7545 Main St., Woodstock will be the primary location in Cherokee County for vaccinations starting next week.
While the health department will be the first outlet for receiving a coronavirus vaccine, other options may soon become available. Piedmont Health System this week sent emails out to its patients letting them know that when they become eligible to be vaccinated, they would be contacted through another email to make an appointment.
Major pharmacy chains have also announced they making plans to offer vaccinations at their locations.
The over-65 phase of vaccinations is expected to take at least the rest of this month, with the expectation that the program will be expanded in early to mid-February to all adults over 31 years old, with an emphasis on those holding jobs that require face-to-face contact with groups of people. These jobs include teachers, food service workers and others.
Taylor added that COVID-19 testing will still be available at the local health department office 7545 Main St., Woodstock but on a limited basis. Testing availability is Monday through Friday from 8-11 a.m., by appointment only. To make an appointment for testing, call 1-888-881-1474.