Georgians 55-plus and people with health risks to get vaccine

Gov. Brian Kemp departs after announcing plans to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility at a press conference in the Capitol Wednesday. (Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)

(GA Recorder) — Significantly more Georgians could be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine by this time next month.

Georgians 55 and older or who have certain health conditions will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination Monday, and all Georgians 16 and older could be eligible as early as April if the supply of vaccines from the federal government keeps up with demand, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday at the Capitol.

Anyone who will become eligible Monday should pre-register as soon as possible, Kemp said.

“I would urge you, if you’re in this new category that will start on Monday, you should sign up today or tomorrow or as soon as you can,” he said. “This is going to move rapidly, especially in certain parts of our state, and what we want is for people to get vaccinated.”

The list of qualifying health conditions as defined by Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes asthma and other lung conditions, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, immune system disorders, and liver disease. Those who are overweight will also be eligible. 

“This is something that was very, very important for us to do as we’ve taken an approach of trying to prevent as many deaths and as many hospitalizations as possible with the way that we rolled out this vaccine,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, head of Georgia’s public health department. “Those individuals who, although they may be younger, who do have these health conditions, may end up with more complications from COVID.”

Gov. Kemp faced criticism from Democrats and teachers groups when the state expanded eligibility to all Georgians 65 and older before extending it to teachers and other essential workers. That was the right thing to do, Kemp argues, because seniors are more likely to become seriously ill or die if they catch COVID-19.

The announcement of the latest expansion came two days after educators and adults with certain disabilities became eligible to get the vaccine in Georgia.

Georgia has lagged behind other states in administering vaccines.

As of Wednesday, more than 3.3 million vaccines have been shipped to Georgia, but fewer than 2.5 million doses have been given, according to numbers from the state Department of Public Health.

According to data from the New York Times, Georgia ranks last among the states in the percent of people given at least one dose, second to last in the percent of people fully vaccinated and last in the ratio of doses used.

Kemp said he disagrees with that ranking, but he did acknowledge some lagging demand in parts of the state. The governor said the state will be moving quickly to get vaccines out of those areas and make them accessible to the people who want them.

“We have tremendous demand in the metro Atlanta area, but our rural communities, we’ve seen in some of these populations are starting to get saturated with the number of people that want to get the vaccine versus those that are still eligible in that community and just are not electing to get it,” he said. “It is your choice as a Georgian. We are not waiting anymore. As soon as we start seeing availability, we’re going to move quickly.”

Georgia’s average number of cases and hospitalizations continue to decline, but the disease is still a threat.

As of Wednesday, there are more than 830,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia, with more than 57,000 of those patients hospitalized. 15,706 Georgians have died from COVID-19.

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