Image courtesy of the Associated Press

DPH Approves UWG COVID-19 Vaccination Program

The UWG COVID-19 Vaccination Program will allow students, faculty and staff to receive vaccinations on campus throughout the spring and summer semesters of 2021. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) approved the program as a closed point of dispensing (POD) meaning the vaccines will be distributed exclusively to students, faculty and staff of UWG through this program.

“What we wanted to do at West Georgia is to have a closed POD so that we could focus on our community,” said Medical Director of UWG Health Services, Dr. Eric Heine. “The program was instituted because the president and executive council did decide that they wanted UWG to be a closed POD.”

UWG has already ordered vaccines for the program, but it has not yet been supplied by the state. Heine said UWG is hoping to get vaccines in the next couple of weeks, but there is no guarantee.

“Currently, Georgia only gets about 120,000 doses of vaccine a week, so for the population of Georgia that’s not very much,” said Heine. “They’ve talked about increasing it so we may get up to about 145,000 doses a week.”

It can be overwhelming for pharmacology companies to produce these vaccines effectively and efficiently. Sometimes the supply chain gets broken because of the pandemic itself, and other times these companies just need to be extra diligent in making the vaccines correctly. Only so many vaccines can be made in such a short amount of time.

“These companies are making these vaccines as fast as they can, but there are a lot of steps to do it carefully,” said Heine. “There are ingredients that need to be had, and there are a lot of hurdles to jump over to produce more vaccines.”

When the vaccines do arrive, UWG is only approved by the DPH to distribute to individuals in Phase 1A, which includes healthcare workers, first responders and those 65 years of age or older (and their caregivers in some cases). This phase also includes students who are in clinical settings. UWG will be able to distribute vaccines to Phase 1B, 1C and 3 only after being approved by the DPH. Phase 1B includes all UWG faculty and staff, while Phase 1C includes students 16-64 with underlying medical conditions. Phase 3 is when the remainder of UWG students can receive vaccines.

Based on the current timeline, it is likely that students will receive vaccines in May or early June. There are four possible locations for students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated on campus—Health Services, University Stadium, the bottom floor of Parker Hall and the main building on the Newnan Campus for individuals at UWG Newnan. Although there is a low probability of young adults dying from COVID-19, Heine says it is still important for young adults to be vaccinated.

“The risk of dying is very low, but there are a lot of side effects with COVID that people don’t talk about as much that can be long term,” said Heine. “There is this one thing called cardiomyocytes, where the muscle of the heart gets inflamed and can lead to congestive heart failure—that’s permanent damage.”

Other side effects of COVID-19 include loss of taste and smell that can be permanent and chronic fatigue even after the virus is gone, according to Heine. All of these side effects can affect young adults who get COVID-19.

“For this pandemic to kind of go away you have to reach what they call herd immunity,” said Heine. “Basically, you have to get enough of the population immune to the virus for it to no longer be transmitted from person to person.

“If you only have half the country get immunized, either naturally or through the vaccine, then the virus still has a lot of hosts that it can jump to,” Heine continued. “Whereas if you have 80-85% of people immunized, then the ability for the virus to spread is severely limited, and a lot of times it just goes away.”

Many people call this pandemic the new normal, but to go back to the real normal this vaccine is important, UWG chose to start the vaccination program on campus for this very reason. “If we want life to return to relatively normal, we’re going to have to get vaccinated,” said Heine.



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