North, GA – The North Georgia Health District was recently honored with the 2023 Walt Orenstein Immunization Champions Award at the Immunize Georgia Conference hosted by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in Atlanta. The award recognizes outstanding leadership and impact in immunizing Georgians, and this marks the fifth time the North Georgia Health District received this prestigious honor.
Based in Dalton, the North Georgia Health District oversees public health in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens, and Whitfield counties. The district was recognized specifically for the staff's unwavering commitment to ensuring vaccinations are easily accessible and available to all residents, regardless of their ability to pay. The district's seven health department locations and two Ryan White Clinics work together to evaluate each patient's immunizations using the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions (GRITS).
In addition to providing vaccinations in the clinics, the staff works in schools, businesses, colleges, nursing homes, drug rehabilitation centers, and prisons to ensure access to vaccinations and education. A relevant example was their response to the recent mpox (monkeypox) epidemic when they developed a vaccination campaign targeting at-risk populations, providing free vaccines to those who reported being at risk. They also set up private clinics to meet vaccine demand and sent staff to local centers where possible virus exposures may have existed.
The commitment to providing easily accessible vaccines has been particularly notable in the North Georgia Health District during the COVID-19 pandemic. Walk-in clinics that do not require appointments for no-cost COVID-19 vaccines at the health departments have simplified getting these vaccines for residents. Plus, district and county staff organized COVID-19 vaccine clinics at various locations in each community.
The staff goes above and beyond to ensure easy access to disease-prevention vaccines for residents of all ages and circumstances. For instance, Fannin County Health Department conducted two meningitis and Tdap vaccination events for high school students.
Gilmer County Health Department has an International Travel Clinic that provides people with the vaccines and health counseling they need to travel abroad safely.
Health department staff in Whitfield, Murray, Gilmer, and Cherokee counties visit nursing homes to provide flu and COVID-19 shots, and all health departments in the district conduct local drive-thru flu shot clinics each year.
In 2022, staff administered over 15,000 COVID-19 shots and nearly 9,000 flu shots at various sites, including 70 schools to provide flu shots and on-site vaccination clinics at over 150 businesses.
Always emphasizing the need for vaccinations and where to find them, the district utilizes every public platform, from blast emails to media releases, social media messages, and website posts to printed handouts, posters, and banners in English and Spanish to keep residents informed of immunization updates and events.
The North Georgia Health District's commitment to making vaccinations readily available and easily accessible to all residents is a testament to the staff's dedication to public health.