One of the biggest struggles health care professionals are facing in states with high rates of COVID-19 is convincing more people to get vaccinated in order to protect themselves and others from the virus. In Georgia, that struggle is being compounded by the fact that public health workers at several vaccine clinics are being harassed and threatened by anti-vaccination protesters.
According to the office of Georgia’s top health official, Department of Public Health commissioner Kathleen Toomey, public health staff at vaccine events in the state “have been harassed, yelled at, threatened and demeaned by some of the very members of the public they were trying to help.”
In southern Georgia, for example, anti-vaccine activists (oftentimes colloquially referred to as “anti-vaxxers”) tracked down on social media health workers who were part of a vaccine clinic. Once online, those individuals harangued those workers with hostile messages, filling their pages with misinformation about vaccines, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
At another clinic held in the northern part of the state, vaccine workers decided to halt their event altogether following harassment by anti-vaxxers. After staff said they felt threatened by protesters who were yelling at them, organizers realized that anyone else who came to get a vaccine that day would feel similarly. Not wanting to put people seeking a vaccine in that position, the staff decided to close the event early instead.
“This is wrong. This is absolutely wrong,” Toomey said at a press conference on Monday. “These people are giving their lives to help others and to help us in the state. We in Georgia can do better.”
Maybe it comes with the territory of someone in my position, but it shouldn’t be happening to those nurses who are working in the field to try to keep this state safe. We should be thanking these individuals for trying to get lifesaving vaccines to our state.
Only 41 percent of Georgia residents are fully vaccinated at this time, a rate that’s much lower than the 52 percent for the U.S. population overall. Georgia also ranks high in terms of how many new cases of coronavirus are being identified each day, on average, on a per capita basis, with only six other states in the country having higher rates.
The harassment of health care professionals and public health officials throughout the pandemic has, sadly, been commonplace. Just last month, for example, health care professionals who testified in favor of masking rules for schools in Franklin, Tennessee, were surrounded and shouted at by residents with anti-mask views, some of whom made direct threats toward them.
“We know who you are. You’ll never be allowed in public again,” one man said at that event.
“We will find you,” said another.