Kemp: All Georgia adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccine starting Thursday

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Riley Bunch, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
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Mar. 23—ATLANTA — All Georgia adults older than 16 years old will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 25.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday that in just two days, all Georgia adults will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as the state expects increased shipments from the federal government.

"As Dr. (Kathleen) Toomey (Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner) and I mentioned multiple times over the last few weeks, we would be moving quickly to expand vaccine criteria provided we continue to see increased supply from the federal government," Kemp said.

The expansion comes not long after the Republican governor opened up eligibility to Georgians age 55 years and older and those suffering from "high risk" conditions which included a large swath of the state's population.

The state first began with vaccinating elderly Georgians and those in nursing homes and long-term care facilities — which were devastated by the pandemic. As of Tuesday, more than 1 million seniors have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Due to uneven demand between rural and metro areas, Kemp said, about 70% of this week's vaccine allotment went to north Georgia and metro Atlanta areas where demand is the highest. Doses will continue to be distributed based on demand.

But Kemp warned Georgians the new mass eligibility will no doubt make vaccine appointments harder to come by in densely populated areas.

"We are expanding eligibility to make sure we continue to keep the demand as high as we can," Kemp said. "Even though it may take a little bit longer in the metro area because of that demand."

According to the Department of Public Health, about 2 million Georgians have received at least one vaccine dose — about 1.1 million have received a second dose.

State officials still face large vaccine hesitancy particularly in rural areas of the state. Kemp has expressed frustration with rural areas — particularly South Georgia — where vaccine demand is low. The governor urged Georgians to be vaccinated, calling it "our ticket back to normal."

"I just want to encourage everybody to get the vaccine. There's no doubt that we're seeing this across the country, but especially in the South, we're seeing vaccine hesitancy that is concerning," he said. "People should not be hesitant. This is a medical miracle. It's safe. It's effective."

But state officials cannot wait on those who are hesitant to be vaccinated, Kemp warned.

"There's going to be a point also where we're not going to wait around anymore," he said. "We want to make it available, but we can't hold others back because of people's vaccine hesitancy."