RINGGOLD, Ga. (CN) — The people giving out Covid-19 vaccines under the tents at a Georgia civic center turned regional vaccine facility are a mix: EMS students, retired nurses and firefighters, to name a few.
They say they have vaccinated thousands of their neighbors drive-thru style in the cold and rain and they plan to continue to do so in the coming Georgia heat, reaching in cars with either the Pfizer or Moderna shots. Even as they expand hours to make it easier for people to get vaccinated, they’ve had to pause for an afternoon when thunderstorms threatening tornadoes rolled through a few days back.
Residents of three counties work the site a few miles from the Georgia-Tennessee state line: staffing a hotline, directing traffic, checking people in, cooking meals. Steve Quinn, director of emergency management for Catoosa County, said on a slow day they administer about 800 shots.
As data shows the area’s Covid-19 hospitalizations are on the rise, those running the facility in Ringgold say their effort is the way for the area to return to normalcy. Currently, Georgia has one of the slowest rollouts of Covid-19 vaccines in the nation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But this vaccine site is a unique effort in the 10-county region of northwest Georgia, and possibly for the whole state, according to Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District spokesperson Logan Boss, as it is a collaboration between three counties.
Vanita Hullander, a commissioner in Catoosa County, handed out vaccination record cards one rainy afternoon last week wearing a bright pink windbreaker. It was a slow day as rain ran down the tents where drivers checked in and then proceeded to get the shots. Cars came in twos and threes.
The drive-thru vaccination site allows the county to move residents through the line quickly and makes it easier for those with mobility issues to avoid standing in line, said Hullander, a retired paramedic.
“It attracts a group that would normally not take the time just to come and get out of their car, go in the building,” Hullander said. “So they say this is better than Wendy's.”
In mid-March, Georgia’s rollout was in last place among the states due to sluggishly opened mass vaccination sites and expanded vaccine eligibility, according to Sarah McCool, a public health professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
A study released March 9 by the university shows that groups administering Covid-19 vaccines can increase the rate of vaccinations by making the vaccine easier to take among “hard-to-reach populations” and help with communicating to boost education and trust.
Back in January, the Catoosa County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to Republican Governor Brian Kemp and state health commissioner Kathleen Toomey asking for more vaccines.
“[At] the current rate of vaccine distribution in Catoosa County and the surrounding area, it would take a year or more for us to provide the level of protection that our community needs,” the Jan. 20 letter said.
The letter added the area had enough personnel from three counties to administer additional vaccines and The Colonnade, Catoosa County’s civic center, would have enough space. Catoosa County has been joined in the effort by Dade and Walker counties.
Altogether, there are about 150,000 residents in the three counties, according to U.S. Census data collected in 2019.
Catoosa County Commission Chair Steven Henry, a homebuilder, said with residents easily traveling from county to county, it made sense to collaborate.
“I feel like we always get more done if we do it together than we do buttin' heads. I mean, why compete?” Henry said.