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Poultry plants eager to vaccinate their workers — and to find out when they can
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Gainesville poultry plant workers unload items from a parked trailer along Mitchell Street Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Though there is no firm timeline of when shots will go in arms, poultry plants in the Northeast Georgia area and across the state are ramping up to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers when it is available.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday four mass vaccination sites will be up and running on Monday, including one in Habersham County aimed partially at serving the large Latino population concentrated in chicken processing plants.

“There is widespread interest from poultry companies across the state to make it available to their employees … when the time comes,” Georgia Poultry Federation President Mike Giles said.

Giles said they have not received any firm information on when poultry workers will receive the vaccine, as they understand it will be based on the supply available and the time to finish the rest of the 1A+ phase of the rollout. 

Under the current Georgia Department of Public Health plan, first responders, long-term care staff and residents, medical staff and those ages 65 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

The poultry industry is part of the essential worker category that will be eligible for the vaccine in the 1B phase.

“Since the pandemic began, public health has been in regular conversations with the poultry companies in our area,” District 2 Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer wrote in an email. “This started with identifying mitigation strategies, to testing and now vaccination planning. There are specific criteria that a provider/company must meet to be enrolled as a vaccine provider.”

Palmer said those criteria include having a medical team that can oversee administration of the vaccine, storage of the vaccine and following the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Public Health.

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A security employee stands outside the entrance of the Koch Foods plant Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, on Industrial Boulevard in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Public health, as well as other providers in the area, will work with essential businesses to vaccinate workers when the time comes to do so,” Palmer wrote.

Kemp visited Gainesville Feb. 15 to meet with Latino leaders about the vaccine rollout and plans for the poultry industry.

District 2 Public Health Director Dr. Zachary Taylor said at the event that larger producers could order the vaccine and have the medical staff administer the doses.

“Smaller producers may not be in that position, and we will work with them to arrange vaccination events at their plants and vaccinate them,” Taylor said Monday. “It’s important to remember that the poultry industry is not a single plant. It also includes the growing of the poultry (and) workers who work on the farms, and so we need to work with all those.”

Giles said he did not have a gauge on what the rate of acceptance in the poultry industry might be.

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Koch Foods Inc. along Industrial Boulevard in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

“We’re using this time now to also educate employees and their families about the vaccine,” he said.

But Fieldale Farms President Tom Hensley said they have hospital workers from the Habersham hospital lined up to administer the vaccine at the plants, where many are eager to get it.

“We’ve surveyed the people, and most of our folks want to get the vaccine. So we’re ready to go,” Hensley said.

Hensley said he estimated the interest level to be between 65-70%, adding that it would not be mandatory.

Hensley said they have requested 5,000 doses, which the company would be able to store.

The Times spoke with representatives from Koch Foods seeking comment, but they did not provide information by press time. The Times also reached out to Pilgrim’s and Perdue regarding their efforts.

The state is also rolling out a registration website, myvaccinegeorgia.com, that will let people register for the mass vaccination sites. 

Hall County has outpaced surrounding counties in terms of vaccinations per 100,000 people.

“There are more enrolled vaccine providers in the Hall/Forsyth County area than other counties in our district,” Palmer said. “This does offer more opportunities for residents to find the vaccine.”

In Hall County, 41,716 doses have been administered, including 28,822 first doses and 12,894 second doses, according to data presented on the Department of Public Health website. That’s 20,997, per 100,000 people. Forsyth’s per capita rate is just 9,537.

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