Justice Melton said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp promised to set aside the vaccines for court personnel, who have not otherwise been granted job-based eligibility for coronavirus vaccination in the Peach State. The state's top judge had been lobbying the governor to expand restrictions so court staff could protect themselves, following several coronavirus-related deaths of Georgia judges and clerks in the past year.
The governor's office and the Georgia Department of Public Health plan to publicly announce the vaccine allocation for court personnel on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Melton said on Monday. He said the state would work with vaccine providers to ensure they update their public information about vaccine eligibility to include court personnel.
"We do ask that you encourage all your people to go [and get vaccinated] as soon as possible and take advantage of this opportunity," Justice Melton told judicial council members. "If there needs to be some accommodation during the work day, I think you can easily make a case that this is work-related because our access to it [vaccines] is based on our work status."
Court personnel included administrative staff, judicial agency staff, clerks and their staff, court interpreters and reporters, courthouse food and service workers and janitorial staff, judges and justices, prosecutors, public defenders and court-appointed conflict attorneys, Justice Melton said.
"We are thankful for the governor. His timing on this was pretty helpful for us," he said.
The governor's office did not immediately comment but said "we'll have more on this later this week."
Justice Melton had asked for assistance in lobbying the governor about vaccinations during the judicial council's previous meeting on March 1, when he allowed jury trials to resume by lifting a pandemic-related suspension. He said at that meeting the governor had failed to inform court personnel about their eligibility for vaccination after scrapping his initial allocation plan before their time came.
Court personnel were at one point included in the "1B" phase of Kemp's initial COVID-19 vaccination plan, but Kemp changed the plan in February before "1B" eligibility began.
Georgia probate court judges and staff have been reporting throughout the pandemic their loss of judges and a clerk as a result of the virus and their mounting frustrations over the state's lack of protection for court staff.
More than 100 Georgia probate court judges and clerks have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began a year ago. Three probate judges and a clerk died as a result of being infected, the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia confirmed.
Harris County Probate Court Judge Thomas Lakes, who tested positive for the virus in April, thanked Justice Melton during Monday's meeting, saying he's "appreciative of this development on the vaccines."
Georgia expanded its vaccine eligibility effective Monday to include people ages 55 and older, health care staff, frontline responders, assisted living facility employees, most teachers and some categories of people with disabilities or illnesses and their caregivers.
--Editing by Nicole Bleier.
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