"I am very heartened to see that the governor has been and continues to push vaccines as our sort of topmost priority for getting this pandemic under control. So, I do applaud him for that. However, I do think that we haven't been doing enough to get as many Georgians vaccinated as possible," said Sen. Dr. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek.
Her comments come after Gov. Brian Kemp took questions from reporters Thursday about the state's vaccination rate, which continues to lag behind. Department of Public Health data shows only 40% of Georgians are fully vaccinated compared to 49.4% nationally.
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink," said Gov. Kemp. "I mean, that is not the government's role. Our role is to educate people and to tell them the truth. But when you tell them they can get vaccinated and then take their mask off and then you turn around weeks later and reverse that, who's gonna trust anybody, any politician--Republican, Democrat or otherwise?"
Though Dr. Au said as government leaders, it is incumbent upon them to take the lead.
"I don't think that this is the moment to throw up our hands and say, 'Look if you haven't gotten vaccinated yet, there's nothing I can do about it. It's your choice. We're done.' Because that's not what government should do," said Dr. Au.
Dr. Au said some of the Georgians who have not gotten vaccinated do not have an ideological objection to the shots, but instead face costs they have not yet figured out how to overcome, like finding transportation, taking time off for the shot, or having sick time available should they experience side effects.
She suggested vaccine clinics should be more accessible to help eliminate some of those barriers for working people especially.
"Treating the vaccine outreach sort of like how the Red Cross treats blood donation," explained Dr. Au. "We all remember having blood drives at college. I had a blood drive at my high school. We have blood drives at work, in the lobby of the bank, you know, places people already are and really lower that barrier as much as possible to make it as easy as possible for people to do the right thing."
Gov. Kemp rebuffed questions about implementing incentives like vaccine lotteries, which have popped up in other states.
"Lotteries haven't worked in other states. Government mandates haven't worked in other states. People at this point in the pandemic they know how to deal this. They know what they need to do. Some of them have been reluctant to do that," said Gov. Kemp.
Dr. Au, however, said they could be an effective tool, especially for younger Georgians.
"It takes what seems like an abstract benefit, you know you're helping your community, you're helping keep down the hospitalizations rates, which feels distant to some people. It feels abstract. And it turns it into a personal or family incentive which is easier to understand. Right, you marry these two incentives together," she said.
Dr. Au said she does not see vaccinations as a partisan issue and hopes state leaders can come together to consider more imaginative solutions.
To find out more on the vaccine as well as where to get it, click here.
Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.