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Georgia sees big COVID-19 vaccine boost with judges, court staff eligible

Judges and court staff in Georgia will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting Wednesday amid a large boost in dose shipments from the federal government that kicked in this week.

The addition of Johnson & Johnson-brand vaccines has helped roughly double the weekly allocation sent to Georgia from 228,000 doses in recent weeks to 458,000 doses, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference Tuesday.

Widening eligibility to judges and court staff comes as state officials eye opening up COVID-19 vaccines to all Georgians, potentially as soon as early next month.

“We are getting closer to that day,” Kemp said. “So I still feel very good about that timeline.

“As we get more vaccines, we’re going to open up this sucker to everybody.”

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.

Along with judges and court staff, Georgia’s vaccine eligibility list currently includes all residents ages 55 and older, health-care workers, nursing home residents and staff, first responders and people with physical, mental and behavioral health conditions.

State data shows roughly 2.7 million vaccines have been given in Georgia so far, though Kemp said that figure does not include about 250,000 doses that officials have identified as administered but that have not yet been reported by local providers.

Nearly 1 million of those vaccines have been given to Georgians ages 65 and older. About 70% of the state’s older and most vulnerable populations have received at least one dose, Kemp said.

With demand still sky-high for vaccines, Kemp said his office is warning many providers to stop withholding vaccines to make sure patients receive both doses and to administer them within 7 days – or face smaller allocations going forward as shipments to Georgia continue growing.

“To be clear: We are going to move these doses where the demand is,” Kemp said. “And we are going to ship these doses to where they’re being used most efficiently. That is my message today to providers.”

Demand has particularly fallen in rural South Georgia, possibly due to doubts over the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness, the governor added. He urged everyone to schedule appointments for the vaccine so that enough Georgians will have immunity to effectively halt the virus’s spread.

“Vaccination is our ticket back to normalcy,” Kemp said. “The more people who are vaccinated, the more lives are saved and the quicker we get back to our normal way of life.”

The boost in vaccine shipments also comes as Georgia prepares to open five new mass vaccination sites Wednesday in Savannah, Columbus, Waycross and Bartow and Washington counties. Those add to four other sites already open in metro Atlanta, Macon, Albany and Habersham County.

As more Georgians are vaccinated, the number of people who are contracting COVID-19 and being hospitalized by the virus is continuing to decline after a sharp winter outbreak, said Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.

“This is a good sign,” Toomey said on Tuesday. “We would like to keep it down and keep it declining in the weeks ahead, and everybody being vaccinated will help with that effort.”

More than 837,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Tuesday afternoon, with roughly 199,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 15,928 Georgians.