Statesboro City Hall's free, public COVID-19 vaccination clinic resulted in 68 people getting vaccinated Wednesday. But that left at least 132 of the $50 gift cards intended as rewards unclaimed, despite the clinic being extended two additional hours while in progress.
The program had been advertised to last from 9 a.m. until 11 a.m., but the doors were actually opened at 8:45 a.m. At that time a few people were already waiting outside, and 18 had been allowed in for vaccination by 8:55 a.m., City Manager Charles Penny said then. But during the next hour, several minutes often passed before another individual arrived to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Bulloch County Health Department personnel who administered the vaccines had indicated that they could remain until as late as 1 p.m., Penny said later. After the effort was finally closed at that time, city Human Resources Director Demetrius Bynes reported the total of 68 vaccinations.
"Obviously we want to get as many people as we can vaccinated, so we would have loved to have given away the 200 gift cards," Penny said later. "But we also recognize the limitations. We did it when most people were working, children were in school."
When officials scheduled the clinic for the first day of the month, a Wednesday morning, they were thinking about catching utility customers coming to City Hall to pay their bills, he noted.
"But I'm not sure that there was much cross-pollination there," Penny said. "I think we probably had more people that came specifically for vaccination."
A Saturday clinic?
When City Council approved the $10,000 expenditure for the two hundred $50 bank-issued gift cards last month, staff members were already hinting at a second vaccination date. So Penny will probably propose a four-hour clinic on a Saturday, and has found the Health Department willing to accommodate this, he said.
"Hopefully we can get it when it can be more convenient for everybody," he said. "We'd like to give all the cards away and then need to ask for some more."
The city budgeted the $10,000 as part of $50,000 for vaccine incentives suggested by Penny and his staff. The source is money the city received last fiscal year through its federal reimbursement under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 for public safety expenses.
When Council meets Tuesday, Penny is expected to present more information on other proposed incentives, such as prize drawings for city residents and employees who have been vaccinated.
Some people had other reasons for getting vaccinated Wednesday. James Bostick, 51, a Statesboro resident and military veteran, was sitting in one of the folding chairs in the lobby at 9 a.m., filling out the vaccination form.
"With COVID going and the job situation, getting back into work, a lot of people are requiring that you have the vaccine, which will make it a lot easier getting back on track with finances," Bostick said, "and you know, hey, we want to stay healthy, right?"
He said he would be getting the two-dose vaccine on an older relative's advice and had previously put off getting it because of "just life" and staying busy.
City officials had announced that the Health Department would be bringing two of the vaccines, the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Moderna vaccine, which requires a second dose at a later date. They had said that the Pfizer vaccine, the only one approved to be administered to youth ages 12–17, and only then with parental permission, would not be available.
But then the Health Department personnel brought the Pfizer vaccine anyway and had all three vaccines available at City Hall, Penny said afterward.
Still, the clinic had been advertised only for ages 18 and up, and parents would have to accompany teenagers to any vaccination opportunity, he noted. The Saturday clinic could be planned to include youth ages 12–17 in this way, he said.
While Wednesday's vaccination opportunity was underway, two women wearing red skirts occupied a bench in front of City Hall. When other people approached the building, the women would get up and hand them anti-vaccination pamphlets with a "Red Skirts Georgia" email address. When asked their names, one of the women gave only the first name Sarah, and the other declined to identify herself.
Although titled "Education Before Medical Decisions" on the front, the pamphlets carried the inside page headings, "Avoid the Covid vaccine at all costs!" and "It's not about the virus. It's about control." Under these were statements about the vaccines and the disease contradicting those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health authorities.