Residents and staff in long-term care facilities are now being vaccinated against COVID-19. GPB’s Ellen Eldridge reports.


A nurse holds a vial of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine

A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy's Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, as the U.K. health authorities rolled out a national mass vaccination program. U.K. regulators said Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020, that people who have a “significant history’’ of allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine while they investigate two adverse reactions that occurred on the first day of the country’s mass vaccination program.

Credit: Frank Augstein / AP

A hotline now exists for Georgians with questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and the state's distribution plan for them.

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said those at the front of the vaccine line are residents and staff in long-term care facilities.

While this population makes up only 5% of coronavirus cases in the state, residents in these facilities make up more than 37% of the deaths from COVID-19 in Georgia, Toomey said Monday during a news conference at PruittHealth in Gainesville.

"We hope with these vaccines we will begin to change those statistics and save lives here, not just in this long-term care facility, but in all of those that are participating with us in this vaccine program," Toomey said.

So far, 914 providers throughout the state have enrolled to distribute vaccines, meaning "there will be providers in your neighborhood," Toomey said.

The data show the vaccines from both Pfizer and Moderna are safe and have minimal side effects such as fatigue and injection site soreness.

"You should be reassured that these vaccines are safe, effective and will save lives" Toomey said. "And so we really strongly encourage you to be vaccinated when we reach that phase of of the vaccine process."

Health officials expect to move into the next phase of vaccination by next month if not sooner.

Anyone in the state who has questions about the vaccines or their eligibility to receive one can call 888-357-0169.