Georgia’s Slow COVID Vaccine Rollout Exposes Broad Public Health Shortfall

Tammi Brown, Chatham County Health Department Nurse Manager, was among the first in Georgia to receive the vaccine against COVID-19 on December 15, 2020 as Memorial University Medical Center emergency room nurse David Wilson awaits another dose and Gov. Brian Kemp and State Sen. Ben Watson look on.

By: Ross Williams

The Georgia Department of Public Health is working to get COVID-19 vaccines in the arms of eligible Georgians, but employees there do not get a break from the work they had before the pandemic.

That’s what Democratic state Sen. Michelle Au, a physician from Johns Creek, found out as she was helping vaccinate people in Norcross for the health department on a recent weekend.

“You see how much else they also have to do, and it was Saturday, so they didn’t have quite the volume for that kind of thing, but they’re handling stuff for WIC, the women and children’s food program, they’re handling other vaccines, all the childhood vaccines are in that same fridge, essentially, trying to be delivered,” she said.

“So there’s all these elements of the public health structure that are supposed to be running under non-pandemic circumstances that they do an admirable job of handling but are still under-resourced, and now we’re piling this huge task on top of it,” Au added.

We need you!
State looking for volunteers to help speed up COVID-19 vaccinations across GA

ATLANTA — We’ve been reporting all week about how the state of Georgia has had one of the slowest roll out rates when it comes to people getting the COVID-19 vaccine in the Peach State.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Georgia at 49 out of the 50 states at rate of vaccination – only ahead of Alabama.

As of Friday, 5,584 people remained hospitalized from the virus across the state. That makes up roughly 32.5% of all the state’s patients. The state says about 91% of all the available hospital beds in Georgia are currently in use because of the rise in COVID-19 cases.


Michelle Au, MD, MPH
American Board of Anesthesiology
Specialty: Anesthesiology

Human Connection

One of the biggest challenges anesthesiologist Michelle Au, MD, MPH faces on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to offer personal, warm care to her patients.

“Unfortunately, the highly infectious nature of the coronavirus has changed the fundamental way we relate to, and take care of, our patients,” said Dr. Au. “For infection control purposes, we must be masked and gloved and talk to patients at a distance, or even through baby monitors. But if we are to truly care for the body and spirit of sick, frightened patients who are unable to have their family with them, we must Rnd ways to foster and convey the human connection, which is fundamental to the practice of heath care.”

Being Part of a Community

Being a front line physician during a generational public health crisis gave Dr. Au a powerful reminder of the awesome social responsibility physicians face every day, even outside of the four walls of their hospitals or offices.

“Beyond providing medical care to patients, we are community leaders. People look to us for answers and for reassurance. We are educators, using our decades of scientific training and clinical experience to break down complex concepts, such as this virus. We are scholars, keeping abreast of rapidly changing research and best practices. And we are role models, showing, rather than telling what those best practices should be, knowing that our communities are looking to us to help guide the way.”

But community goes both ways. During the early days of the pandemic, Dr. Au and her colleagues appreciated the support of their community as they coped with a surge of very sick patients. They received supportive cards and emails, in addition to donated supplies and meals during their shifts. “While we were the ones on the front line, it was heart-warming and bolstering to know that there was a whole community right behind us, helping us to do our jobs.”

Balancing Personal and Professional Responsibilities

As the mother of three young children, Dr. Au was understandably concerned that she could be putting her family at risk by bringing home the virus.

“Diminishing clinically excellent, compassionate care to my patients was never an option, so I continue to practice, but I have made changes to many of the routines around our home. For example, to reduce risk to my family, I sequester myself when I get home until I’ve showered and changed. I take pains to separate my family from anything that has been exposed to the hospital environment and we do exercise an additional degree of separation from casual, close social contact even in everyday life, out of a surfeit of caution.”

When asked if a career in medicine was more diScult than she expected, Dr. Au says, “We didn’t choose to become doctors because it would be easy. We chose to become doctors because the work we do gives our lives purpose, even when it’s hard.” 

Certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology, Dr. Au is an anesthesiologist at Physician Specialists in Anesthesia, a provider of adult anesthesiology services within the Atlanta health care community. (Published: October 5, 2020)


Carol Geraci describes herself as politically “middle-of-the-road,” the kind of person who can get along with anybody.

For more than four decades, the Smyrna grandmother voted for Republicans, but in recent years she believes the party has drifted too far to the right. In November, she plans to cast her ballot for Democrat Joe Biden, less because of his platform and more to register her opposition to President Donald Trump.

“I go on character,” Geraci said, “and Trump doesn’t have character.”

Sabrina Mao of Marietta is firmly in the opposite direction. To her, the protests that erupted during the social justice movement prove that Democrats have no “moral grounding.”

She’s on the front lines of the pandemic.
And running for office.

Michelle Au could become the first Asian American woman to serve as a state senator in Georgia.


A local Georgia race that hasn’t attracted much attention could make history if Michelle Au becomes the first Asian American woman to serve as a senator in the state’s legislature.

On Tuesday, Au, a 41-year old Chinese American anesthesiologist in the northern suburbs of Atlanta, won her district’s Democratic primary against 53-year-old Bangladeshi American health care entrepreneur Josh Uddin.

Technically, the state was still counting ballots on Thursday, but local media, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution, called the race for Au with 77 percent of the votes to Uddin’s 23 percent after a chaotic primary voting day that foreshadows potential problems with November’s general election.

“They’ve called the race and we feel good about where it is,” Au said.


Exposure and a lack of protective gear are fueling concerns for
the safety of frontline medical teams across the US

Nurses wearing protective clothing handle a bag with a potentially infected coronavirus swab at a drive-through testing center in Seattle, Washington. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images

Jessica Glenza in New York
Thu 19 Mar 2020 14.14 EDT

Dr. Michelle Au is an anesthesiologist and, therefore, expert at quickly and safely putting patients on ventilators. Under normal circumstances, her work is in the operating room.

But in the midst of a respiratory disease outbreak she has a new job, which is both critical and dangerous.

With the coronavirus pandemic bearing down on communities across America, her Georgia hospital – like many others – has canceled all elective surgeries and pulled her on to a specialist airway team.