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Vaccine distribution in Georgia to start soon, take months

Kemp says state should begin distributing vaccine before the end of next week

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – Georgia should start distributing thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of next week, though most people will have to wait several months before they can get a shot, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday.

The Republican governor praised the vaccines as “a miracle of modern science that will save countless lives” in a state where COVID-19 has killed more than 9,000 people. Kemp also warned infections and hospitalizations are soaring in Georgia and the virus will remain a serious threat well into 2021.

The first doses, expected within the next 10 days, will be used to vaccinate Georgia health care workers and nursing home residents and employees.

“The general public will be not able to be vaccinated for months,” Kemp said in a news conference streamed online from the state Capitol in Atlanta. “We must all continue to still wear our masks. We must still wash our hands. We must continue more than ever to watch our distance.”

The Federal Food and Drug Administration could be days away from approving emergency use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer. A second vaccine by Moderna is up for a decision by regulators later this month.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Georgia should receive “several hundred thousand doses” in the coming weeks.

“We hope by certainly early January we would have all health care workers covered,” Toomey said.

Vaccinating 10 million Georgia residents will likely take until summer, Toomey said. She and the governor both plan to work to persuade people that the coronavirus shots are safe.

“I can say with great enthusiasm: I can’t wait to get vaccinated,” Toomey told reporters.

Until then, state officials are pleading with people not to relax their guard. The number of daily confirmed and suspected coronavirus infections in Georgia soared more than 70% in the past week, and hospitals are sounding alarms about their ability to absorb new COVID-19 patients.

Kemp noted per capita infections in Georgia have been lower than in most other states, and he said hospitals have better treatments and therapeutics for coronavirus patients than they had months ago.

However, Kemp said, “there’s still enough signs out there that give me great concern.”

“I fully realize and appreciate how how tired everyone is,” the governor said. “Everyone wants to go back to the normal Georgia... But it is my belief we have lost too many loved ones, too many friends and neighbors, to give in to this virus.”