Kemp extending vaccine to all adults, seeks to reduce hesitancy

Georgia’s COVID vaccine campaign is shifting from seeking supply to stoking demand.

Starting Thursday, all Georgians 16 and older will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Last week, Kemp allowed people 55 and older and those with medical conditions to get the vaccine, along with court personnel. When the vaccine drive was announced in December, the only eligible categories of recipients were health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The list has been expanded ever since.

Texas and Indiana also Tuesday announced eligibility to all adults, joining a growing list of states to do so.

With the coming all-adults eligibility, the governor acknowledged that “appointments will no doubt be hard to find’’ for some people.

“Confirm your spot in line as quick as possible,” Kemp said. Public health agencies, state vaccination sites, medical providers and pharmacists are among potential sources of the shots, he added. “This is our ticket back to normal.’’

But Kemp also said he is concerned about convincing people who have doubts about vaccination, and he added that this effort may become a localized battle, involving doctors and pharmacists, employers, community leaders and churches.

Kemp said the state is moving vaccine supply to “where demand is highest,’’ in North Georgia and metro Atlanta, with 70 percent of allocated doses going to those areas. “We’re seeing less demand in rural areas,’’ he said.

The governor said he wants “to get the word out’’ on vaccine availability. “We cannot afford to have vaccines sitting in the freezer.’’

Focus on metro Atlanta

Amber Schmidtke, who reports on COVID in Georgia in the Daily Digest, said she’s excited about the increased availability. Younger people – ages 18 to 39 – are the ones now driving the spread of infections, Schmidtke added.

Kemp is making the right move in shifting doses to areas of high demand, Schmidtke said.

COVID vaccine drive-through in Cook County

“We know there’s a scarcity [of doses] in metro Atlanta,’’ she said. “Atlanta is much more efficient’’ in getting doses into arms, she added.

“We’re going to have to come up with an education and outreach campaign’’ to encourage vaccinations, Schmidtke said. She said special efforts need to be made to reach people who have limited English skills, don’t have transportation or lack the necessary computer access.

People still need to be careful about protecting themselves and others against the virus, Schmidtke added. “This is still a marathon.’’

Kemp defends state’s performance

More than 3 million doses have been administered, with more than 1 million Georgians fully vaccinated. Kemp said he will get a shot Friday in Waycross.

A CDC map shows Georgia ranks as the second-lowest state, behind Alabama, in shots administered per 100,000. Kemp, though, said that among the states, Georgia has been sent the second fewest vaccine doses per 100,000 population.

COVID hospitalizations and deaths have trended downward over the past two weeks, state officials say. But looming as a threat in the COVID fight is the spread of variants of the virus.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s Public Health commissioner, said Tuesday there have been 365 confirmed cases in Georgia of coronavirus variants, considered more contagious than the main strain. Most of those have been the so-called U.K. strain. Georgia reported 15 cases of the South African variant, and one of the Brazilian variant, Toomey said.