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Georgia Is Closing Many Of Its Mass Vaccination Sites Due To Low Demand

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Georgia ranks near the bottom of all states when it comes to the pace of vaccinations, yet amidst low demand, the state is shutting down most of its mass vaccination sites. Grant Blankenship of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports on efforts to reach people who might get vaccinated if someone makes it easy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Good morning.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: It's early in the morning and cool, as car snake around St. Paul AME Church in Macon. But summer's coming, and air conditioners will soon be running nonstop - that's expensive. The line is to get signed up for help with future power bills from a local nonprofit.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKENSHIP: As Reverend James Baker checks people in, he offers them a disease-fighting side benefit.

JAMES BAKER: Have y'all took your vaccinations yet?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No.

BAKER: We're doing them this morning, and we're doing $25 Walmart cards.

BLANKENSHIP: The gift cards are to sweeten the deal, as Baker steers people to the tent at the end of the traffic spiral around the church. It's one local hospital's first ever no-appointment-needed COVID-19 vaccine event.

BAKER: You got both of yours? Convince her by the time you come around this way, OK?

BLANKENSHIP: Until now, vaccinations in Georgia have required making an appointment, sometimes at massive sites that can dole out thousands of shots daily. But those are shutting down in May in favor of grassroots vaccine events like this one, where doses will number in the tens. Atrium Health's Carol Badcock, who's in charge of this pop-up, says they're aimed at people who aren't looking to get vaccinated but might if it's easy.

CAROL BABCOCK: Whoever wants the vaccine, we register them and give the shot all in one sweep.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Promise you're going to be fine.

BLANKENSHIP: Eula Faye Johnson came for help with her power bill but is sticking around for the shot, even though...

EULA FAYE JOHNSON: I'm just scared (laughter). And then if you're talking about the Johnson & Johnson one, and it's just - you know, that's - that put fear in me even more.

BLANKENSHIP: She's getting Pfizer, but easing fears like that will be a big part of preparing the ground for future vaccine pop-ups. Fair Count, the group founded by Stacey Abrams and until recently devoted to equity in the U.S. Census, is shifting into COVID vaccine education and access. Fieldworker Stephen Galloway is hanging one-page brochures from doorknobs in Macon's Tattnall Place neighborhood. They have a little information about COVID vaccines, plus a web address and phone number.

STEPHEN GALLOWAY: You want one, sir?

BLANKENSHIP: Mildred Elams takes one.

GALLOWAY: If you go on there on the website, it shows you all you need to know about...

MILDRED ELAMS: I'm vaccinated by the Holy Ghost.

BLANKENSHIP: Galloway says Elams' response was a first for him.

GALLOWAY: But in cases like that, you know, it's good not to preach.

BLANKENSHIP: At St. Paul AME, James Baker has no such qualms. In fact, as a church leader, he says preaching about COVID vaccines is his duty.

BAKER: I could give scripture. Faith without works is dead.

BLANKENSHIP: As he sees it, the vaccine is a God-given tool, so he's not afraid to give people like Eula Faye Johnson the hard sell. Now she's faced her fears.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: You're done. It's all done.

JOHNSON: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: OK? You're done.

BLANKENSHIP: And even though she didn't know she was headed to a COVID vaccine when she woke up today, she got the shot.

JOHNSON: I hope I'll be OK. If I do good, maybe my daughter will come 'cause she's scared, too.

BLANKENSHIP: Organizers here say that would be great; they'll be back next Thursday. And every shot in an arm counts.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I did it, y'all.

(CHEERING)

BLANKENSHIP: And every COVID vaccination is a cause to celebrate.

For NPR News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon, Ga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.