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Seniors share struggle in getting appointment for COVID-19 vaccine
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Louis McClure gets a COVID-19 vaccine from certified medical assistant Sabrina Edge of the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, at the Northeast Georgia Health System Corporate Plaza, the health system's second vaccine clinic for those 65 and over at the site. - photo by Scott Rogers

For roughly 30 minutes, Sue Harmon heard nothing but the four busy tones from the Hall County Health Department’s phone number. 

But Harmon kept calling and calling, hearing those same four tones each time until she finally got through. 

After another hour on the phone, she was able to get her appointment scheduled for next month to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

These stories have been ubiquitous for seniors and others trying to schedule their own vaccinations, either stalking the online appointment portals or calling incessantly.

“For some elderly folks, they can’t do this kind of thing,” Harmon said.

NGHS officials said appointments for their seven clinics announced Saturday, Jan. 9, were filled in roughly an hour after the announcement. 

NGHS administered 350 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Jan. 11, on the first day of vaccinations for people ages 65 and older.

The majority of the 350 doses given Monday went to those ages 65 and up, though some went to the seniors’ caregivers.

District 2 Public Health said this week its phone lines, call center and website are “overwhelmed and (unable) to handle the demand” for the vaccine.

The Times spoke with people in line to get their shots Thursday, Jan. 14, at the second NGHS clinic in Oakwood.

Herman Garcia said he had been trying for several days roughly 50-60 times through the online appointment portal.

“My son, he was helping me on a separate computer,” he said. “Back and forth, back and forth. … I was working on two different fronts.”

Having heard of the clinic Thursday and continuing to have no luck online, Garcia came in person at 9:30 a.m. and was told to come back that afternoon.

Northeast Georgia Physicians Group Vice President of Operations Bobby Norris said about 500 people were scheduled Thursday for the vaccine, though the number can fluctuate with no-shows and late additions.

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Certified medical assistant Sabrina Edge, of the Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, gives Ron Davidson a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, at the Northeast Georgia Health System Corporate Plaza during the health system's second vaccine clinic for those 65 and over at the site. - photo by Scott Rogers

“Each day, because we don’t want to waste any vaccine, we keep a list of people that we can call if we get to the end of the day and have some left over,” he said.

Louis McClure has seen both ends of the spectrum in terms of scheduling the shot. For him personally, he was able to log in and get his appointment in minutes.

For his in-laws, however, it took collectively 650 calls to get appointments in neighboring Alabama.

“It’s just ridiculous to get through,” McClure said, adding his in-laws were able to get an appointment for next week.

Ron and Barbara Davidson were tipped off by their son, a doctor, about the upcoming clinics. 

“Hopefully we’ll reach some sort of mass saturation point where people will feel safe again,” Ron Davidson said. “We certainly are looking forward to that day. We don’t live in fear by any means. We’re just trying to take precautions as best we can.”


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Barbara Davidson prepares to get a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, from a health professional at the Northeast Georgia Health System Corporate Plaza during the health system's second vaccine clinic for those 65 and over at the site. - photo by Scott Rogers

Reaching a herd immunity might mean being able to celebrate Christmas with their family, or possibly getting a do-over for their 50th wedding anniversary celebration that was also this past December.

“You know what we did on our anniversary? We hiked a waterfall and then came home and called out for pizza,” Barbara Davidson said. “And guess what? In 50 years of marriage, we have never called out for pizza.”

Norris said they will definitely be adding more clinics, though the health system does not have a timeframe yet. 

Those vaccinated during these clinics are being scheduled for their second dose, Norris said.

“If they can’t come back on that day, then we tell them another day that will work based on the clinics we have scheduled,” he said.

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