Georgia Pediatrician Brings COVID-19 Vaccine in the Community

The Dekalb Pediatric Center, located in Decatur, Georgia, signed up to be a vaccination provider as soon as COVID-19 vaccines were available under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). With the relationships it has built since it opened in 1992, Dekalb Pediatric Center felt confident that even with a small office they could easily reach enough parents, grandparents, and community members to use the minimum order of COVID-19 vaccines.

Although eager to help, pediatric practices were not included in the Georgia state phase 1 vaccine distribution plan. Dr. Jane Wilkov, founder of Dekalb Pediatric Center, advocated on behalf of their practice and all pediatricians to get an allocation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and on March 19, 2021, they received their first shipment.

DeKalb Pediatric Center

DeKalb Pediatric Center’s Dr. Jane Wilkov said 106 people had appointments between 4 and 5:30 p.m. for the March 25 vaccine clinic.

“It was the first ray of hope in a dark year, and we were excited to be able to do our part to help the community,” said Dr. Wilkov.

Once approved, word that Dekalb Pediatric Center was offering COVID-19 vaccinations spread like wildfire, and they were inundated with parents, teens, and local community members all wanting to get vaccinated. In the first week, they administered 1,170 doses of the vaccine. From there, the practice worked with the nearby Decatur High School to sponsor a vaccination day at Dekalb Pediatrics’ office.

It took everyone in the practice to meet vaccine demand from their high school partnership. Dekalb Pediatric Center’s staff of 25, including all their doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and administrative and clinical staff were able to administer 650 vaccines in one day. Once vaccine eligibility was extended to those age 12 years and older, the practice was able to vaccinate more than 1,300 teens in less than a week.

“We had one teen – age 17 who had never received a vaccine in his life (not our patient) who came with his mom stating that he told her he was getting this one and she acquiesced.” He said he wanted to “get his life back,” said Dr. Wilkov.

As the practice became more efficient, they expanded their efforts to offer vaccination to all eligible community members, including employees of the local Dekalb Farmers Market, which has over 700 employees from all over the world.

Adamant on not wanting to waste a vaccine dose, Dr. Wilkov recalls a time where there were 1 or 2 leftover doses at the end of the day and needing to scramble to find people who wanted to get vaccinated.

“I needed one more, so I went back out and saw a woman walking a big dog. I am terrified of big dogs but didn’t want to waste vaccine,” said Dr. Wilkov. “I timidly approached, she agreed, and we vaccinated her outside the office with the dog looking and acting very scary and aggravated. We laughed about it when she came back for dose 2 without the dog.”

While it is a small practice, Dekalb Pediatric Center is located in the middle of one of the most diverse counties in the United States, and even though they focus on children, they were able to bring the vaccine to everyone in the community.

In an 8-week span, Dekalb Pediatric Center vaccinated over 6,400 people while still operating their practice. They vaccinated patients from age 12 to 96 years old, from all backgrounds, many with limited English proficiency, from all ethnic and socioeconomic groups, many with no insurance, and many with no documentation. As a private practice, some community members chose to get vaccinated at Dekalb Pediatric Center because they had concerns about visiting a government-run vaccination site.

Dr. Wilkov attributes the support from community partnerships as a driving force in their success. They were able to partner with Decatur High School, Renfroe Middle School, City Schools of Decatur, and the Decatur Housing Authority on two occasions, initially for those 16 years and up, and again for those ages 12 through 15 years. PTA volunteers helped with check-in, managing the flow, and provided lunch and snacks on vaccination days. School nurses were also present to help with post-vaccination observation period, and other support, allowing the practice be able to vaccinate school personnel, parents, and teens.

COVID-19 vaccine: DeKalb Pediatric Center’s medical assistant and doctor hold signs to indicate they are ready for the next person.

Medical Assistant Denrita Leonard on left, and Dr. Debby Pollack in back, hold signs to indicate they are ready for the next person during DeKalb Pediatric Center’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic on May 12, 2021.

“Seeing the excitement and hope on the teens’ faces, instead of the usual reaction to needing a shot, was uplifting, and has kept us going. It has been rewarding for all of us – probably for me personally the most rewarding experience in my career,” said Dr. Wilkov.

One of the lessons she learned from this endeavor was that planning and having all staff on board was critical to their success. “The easiest part was giving the vaccine. The hardest and most challenging was scheduling vaccines. For the most part we did this while at the same time keeping our practice going to serve our patients,” said Dr. Wilkov. “Plan ahead, involve everyone, and know that if you only vaccinate a few people, you are making a big difference in their lives.”

According to Dr. Wilkov, Dekalb Pediatric Center will have to work to reach individuals and families one at a time because they are spending more time having conversations and answering questions about the vaccine. With so much experience giving routine vaccinations, she feels that pediatricians should use their expertise to support their communities.

“Those of us who are pediatricians need to incorporate giving COVID vaccine into our regular everyday work. The positive effect we can have in restoring a sense of normalcy to our kids is well worth the effort to administer the vaccine,” explained Dr. Wilkov.

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