Buford resident Zach Brantley received a choice from his wife last month: he either got the COVID-19 vaccine or he couldn’t play rugby this year.
Brantley, 28, plays for the Gwinnett Lions rugby team. He picked up the sport — which has year-round activities but whose competitive season is in the spring — in October 2019.
He wanted to play the sport again, so when the vaccine or no rugby choice had to be made, Brantley chose rugby — and the vaccine.
“I’ve been out of rugby since last year when COVID kicked and I’ve got a 1-year-old and 6-year-old at home so my wife said ‘You’ve got to put that on hold until you get this shot done,’ “ said Brantley, who received his second vaccine dose at a Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments mass vaccination site at Gwinnett Place Mall on Monday.
Brantley was one of the tens of thousands of people who have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine from the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments. The three-county health district is approaching 100,000 doses distributed in Gwinnett County alone.
“I think (the distribution have) been going really, really well,” health department spokesman Chad Wasdin said. “To date, in Gwinnett — or I should say our Gwinnett locations, which largely includes most vaccines having been given at Gwinnett Place (Mall) — we’ve given over 92,000, almost 93,000 vaccines.
“For our district, in total, we’ve given over 120,000 at this point, so we really are encouraged by how the community is embracing the vaccine and seeking it out, so we think everything is going really well at this point.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean all of the people vaccinated by the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments in Gwinnett County are Gwinnettians, however. Georgians are allowed to sign up to get the vaccine anywhere in the state, so some of the people vaccinated in Gwinnett likely live elsewhere in Georgia.
At the same time, the numbers reported by Wasdin only reflect the doses distributed by health department and do not include those administered in the county by other sources, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, clinics or primary care doctors.
The mass vaccination site at the former Sears location at Gwinnett Place Mall was intended to eventually distribute as many as 3,000 vaccine doses a day once there was enough supply to do so. Wasdin said the health department is not far from that total now.
“We haven’t reached all the way up to 3,000, but we are scheduling, I believe, about 2,500 appointments every day,” the health department spokesman said.
Although the former Sears location at Gwinnett Place Mall is the main location where the county’s health department is administering vaccines, Wasdin said it is also partnering with community groups — mainly churches — to provide mobile vaccination efforts.
Any Georgian who is 16 and older is now eligible to get vaccinated, although Wasdin said the Pfizer vaccines is the only one meant to be administered to people under 18.
Statewide, the Georgia Department of Public Health is reporting that 4.19 million vaccine doses had been administered as of Monday afternoon. State health officials have suspended reporting county numbers on its vaccine dashboard, however, because of “ongoing system and data transfer issues that have caused delays in updating the COVID vaccine dashboard every day,” according to DPH’s website.
Gov. Brian Kemp offered optimism in a statement on vaccine distribution on Monday.
“We continue to make steady progress in our vaccine administration here in Georgia,” Kemp said. “The life-saving COVID-19 vaccine is our key back to normal, and with all Georgians ages 16 and over now eligible to receive the shot we are well on our way as we head into spring and summer.
“I continue to ask all Georgians to follow best practices, public health guidance, and most importantly, schedule their vaccine appointment with a local provider or at one of our state-operated sites using MyVaccineGeorgia.com.”
Duluth resident Wiley Graddy, 57, got his second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments mass vaccination site at Gwinnett Place Mall on Monday.
He said getting the vaccine was important because of he has younger and older family members who he wanted to protect, and he was glad to have both shots behind him.
“It feels good just to protect my family,” Graddy said. “I’ve got old ones and young ones, so it was not so much for myself, but to protect others.”
Graddy said he is looking forward to getting back to something resembling a pre-COVID life, even if face masks and social distancing may still be required, now that he has received both of his doses of the vaccine.
“We’re not out of the woods yet, but the sooner everybody gets it, hopefully we’ll get back to some normalcy,” he said.
And, not surprisingly, Brantley has one activity he is most looking forward to doing now that he has received both doses of the vaccine: rugby.
“Seven more days and I’m back at it so it feels good to be able to re-integrate again,” he said.