COVINGTON, Ga. — Some Newton County residents were caught by surprise after state health officials recently moved the Covington site for COVID-19 vaccinations to Conyers.
One resident said it was done without enough notice and could pose a risk to eligible patients who must now travel 13 miles west for the vaccine.
Gwinnett, Newton & Rockdale County Health Departments on Jan. 18 moved one of its two vaccination sites from Covington to a site 13 miles west at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers.
Georgia residents eligible for the vaccine now include health care workers, first-responders, nursing home residents and those ages 65 and up, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The department formerly was vaccinating eligible residents at the Newton County Health Department on Hazelbrand Road in Covington and at a Gwinnett Health Department site in Lawrenceville.
However, officials found that the available space in Covington limited the number of people who could be served daily, said Chad Wasdin, spokesman for the Gwinnett, Newton & Rockdale County Health Departments.
“At this larger location, we can accommodate more people to be vaccinated as opposed to two separate locations,” Wasdin said. “We used this same strategy for COVID testing last year, which worked well.”
Health workers can vaccinate 400 more people daily at the new site than at its Covington facility, Wasdin said.
The Conyers location at 1064 Culpepper Drive SW also is larger and more centralized for both counties, he said.
The move angered some in Newton County who said it was done without enough notice and could pose a risk to eligible patients — most of whom are elderly and saw their short drive to Covington extended by 13 miles over sometimes congested roads.
Kathy Bouchillon said her parents, who are in their 80s, received their initial doses at the health department which is a few blocks from their home in Covington.
She said on Tuesday, Jan. 26, they have not yet been told about the change in location for their second doses in February.
“They vaccinated people for the flu here,” she said. “Why can’t they do the same thing (for COVID-19)?”
Wasdin, however, said the Newton County Health Center staff called each patient directly to inform them of the change.
“It is possible they weren’t able to connect with all patients if the individual didn’t answer the phone or have a voicemail option,” he said. “However, as long as we had a phone number for the patient, we reached out to them.”
The department also organizes a weekly call to update community partners, like EMAs, hospitals and others, about upcoming changes to its response in the counties it serves, Wasdin said.
Bouchillon said she wanted the health department to offer those who already have received first doses to receive their second doses at the same location.
She said she fears for her parents driving to the new vaccination site.
“They have to get on I-20 where, before, they could do it independently,” Bouchillon said.
She said she anticipates her parents — once they get to the Conyers site — waiting in a line of hundreds of people for hours at a larger site.
Some in Newton County may have to take time off work to transport their parents if they are aged, she said.
“We do have a large, older population,” Bouchillon said, in reference to Newton County.
The number of shots administered to eligible Georgians has gone up in recent weeks after a halting mid-December start, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference in the state Capitol Tuesday, the Capitol Beat News Service reported.
Kemp's office announced Tuesday night that President Joe Biden’s administration will start allocating Georgia an additional 25,000 vaccine doses per week to increase Georgia's current weekly allotment to 145,900 doses.
That amount lags far behind the millions of doses needed to halt the virus’ spread, the news service reported.