Georgia expands coronavirus vaccinations to include high-risk health conditions

Georgians ages 55 and older as well as those with a variety of health issues will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting next Monday amid a recent boost in supplies, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday.

Vaccines could also potentially be available for all Georgia adults starting next month if the current number of shots that federal officials are sending weekly to the state continues to increase as it has in recent weeks, Kemp said at a news conference.

“Provided we continue to see increasing vaccine supply, it is our intent to open up vaccination to all adults the first part of next month,” Kemp said.

Along with adults 55-years and older, vaccines will be open starting March 15 to Georgians with health conditions including cancer, moderate-to-severe asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, hypertension, liver disease, COPD, chronic kidney disease, cerebrovascular disease and compromised immune systems.

Kemp said he is expanding eligibility to keep pace with the increasing supply of vaccines Georgia is receiving from the federal government and to avoid seeing lagging demand among currently eligible people. Georgia is currently receiving weekly shipments of 223,000 vaccine doses.

“Adding these additional high-risk Georgians will mean that vaccination will be available to categories that have accounted for 92% of our deaths due to COVID-19 in Georgia,” Kemp said.

“As we have from the beginning, we will protect the most vulnerable to severe illness, hospitalization or death, and enable Georgians to get back to normal.”

The newly eligible Georgians add to a growing list of vaccine-eligible people including school teachers and staff, health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders, those with mental and behavioral health issues, parents of children with medical conditions and people ages 65 and older.

Nearly 2.5 million vaccines have been given so far in Georgia, including to roughly two-thirds of all people 65-years and older in the state, according to Kemp’s office. Vaccination rates have climbed as the state receives more doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and recently approved Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Kemp, who said he will get the vaccine soon, urged teachers and others who are already eligible for vaccines to sign up for appointments now with demand about to spike from the newly eligible group of Georgians starting next week.

“This is your opportunity, these days ahead, to get in the queue and get your vaccines,” Kemp said. “This is going to move rapidly, especially in certain parts of the state, and what we want is for people to get vaccinated.”

Georgians can pre-register for a vaccine appointment at myvaccinegeorgia.com even if they do not yet qualify under the governor’s eligibility criteria. They will be notified once they qualify and scheduled for an appointment.

The governor also said his administration is aiming to quickly expand eligibility further to Georgians who have been hit hard by the pandemic including restaurant, agriculture and grocery workers. How soon those groups will be able to get the vaccine depends on supplies holding steady.

“We want to move that population as quickly as we can and try to protect them and keep our economy going,” Kemp said. “All of this helps get us back to normal.”

Georgia has been ratcheting up to distribute vaccines since the first Pfizer and Moderna doses started arriving in mid-December, particularly through moves to open several mass vaccination sites in different regions throughout the state.

So far, state officials have opened four mass vaccination sites in metro Atlanta, Macon, Albany and Habersham County, and are set to open another five sites next week in Savannah, Columbus, Waycross and Bartow and Washington counties.

The vaccine ramp-up comes as COVID-19 positive case rates and hospitalizations continue falling after a surging outbreak that swept over the Georgia around the winter holiday season. Hospitals have seen a fall in COVID-19 patients from around 5,700 during the winter to 1,500 currently, Kemp said. Deaths traced to the virus are also starting to decline, he added.

“Every metric in the COVID-19 pandemic is headed in the right direction,” Kemp said.

More than 830,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Tuesday afternoon, with nearly 197,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 15,647 Georgians.

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