There are about 98,000 students in Gwinnett County Public Schools who are old enough to be eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments Director Dr. Audrey Arona is concerned that many of them may not be vaccinated.
While Arona conceded that students who are 12 or older may have gotten vaccinated by their family doctor or a clinic instead of the health department, she said the number of students who did go to the health department is a tiny fraction of the eligible student population.
“We’re not vaccinating as many students as we’d like,” Arona said. “We’d like all 98,000 eligible students — there are 98,000 12 years and up students that are eligible just in Gwinnett County Public Schools.
“We’ve done close to 500. It’s not that much, right? And, that’s what we’ve done, that’s what the health department’s done, so remember that other student (could have been vaccinated elsewhere), but that’s what we’ve done through the summer.”
The local health department is working with Gwinnett County Public Schools, which is the largest school district in both Gwinnett County and Georgia, to boost vaccination levels among students and educators.
District officials announced the vaccination clinics along with their decision to re-instate a mask mandate for all students for the 2021-2022 school year last week.
The clinics will be offered from 3 until 7 p.m. on Wednesdays through the end of August at Discovery High School, which is located at 1335 Old Norcross Road in Lawrenceville.
Anyone who is 12 or older is eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re been, periodically, at different high schools throughout the summer,” said Arona, who added that the Discovery site will be a static site.
The health department is also continues to operate its mass vaccination site in the former Sears at Gwinnett Place Mall, and that site is accepting walk-ins. Appointments are no longer needed at that site.
Overall, Arona said 51% of Gwinnett County residents have received at least one vaccine dose and 46% of the county’s residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But the rise of the Delta variant has given officials cause for concern.
Although the variant can infect people who have been fully vaccinated, several health officials have said its effects are far worse for people who are unvaccinated. That was a key reason why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its face mask guidelines to encourage people wear masks regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, which in turn prompted the new mandate in GCPS.
But, Arona said getting more students vaccinated is a good long-term solution to reducing the spread of the variant and the risks of serious illness.
“Now that school is going back, we’re really trying to get as many of our students vaccinated as possible, that are eligible, because it’s just going to make the school year better,” Arona said. “The more people we get vaccinated, the less variants we’ll have and the less transmission we’ll have.”