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Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey receives the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month as Gov. Brian Kemp watches.

COVID-19 vaccines are set to roll out for Georgians ages 65-years and older, police officers and firefighters in the coming weeks as hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes continue divvying up a limited supply of early doses, Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday.

The expansion comes as vaccine providers administer shots more quickly in rural parts of Georgia than in metro areas, giving some places capacity to offer vaccines for vulnerable people besides just health-care workers and nursing home residents, said state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.

Officials are now aiming to open drive-through clinics in metro Atlanta sometime next week to administer vaccines by the thousands of doses for health-care workers at a given location, rather than the lesser amounts seen at local provider clinics where storing vaccines at cold temperatures is challenging.

Nearly 62,000 vaccine doses had been administered in Georgia as of late Wednesday afternoon, according to state Department of Public Health data, which tends to lag by a day or two. Around 432,000 doses had been shipped and more than 1,000 providers are on hand to administer them.

“We will use every available resource to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible (and) to be part of the existing logistical infrastructure that we have,” Kemp said at a news conference Thursday.

The ability of some rural areas to vaccinate local health-care workers has recently left doses “sitting in freezers” while hundreds of health-care workers in more urban parts of the state are still on waiting lists for the tightly limited supply of vaccines currently available, Toomey said.

“That is unacceptable,” Toomey said. “We have lives to save. … It really made sense for us to move into this additional category for such vulnerable persons.”

The governor said it’s likely more efficient for providers in rural areas to use all their vaccines rather than send surplus doses to metro areas since fresh shipments would have already arrived by then. He said state officials are constantly tweaking distribution plans amid uncertainty over how many vaccines Georgia will get in the early stages of the nationwide rollout.

Meanwhile, Georgia heads into the New Year’s holiday with positive cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19 continuing to spike. The state has been averaging around 5,000 new positive cases daily in recent days after logging a high of nearly 8,000 cases on Christmas Eve.

Kemp urged Georgians to avoid gathering in large groups for New Year’s Eve celebrations and for young people to quarantine themselves from more vulnerable family members for a couple weeks if they plan on attending any parties.

“The virus is still here and presents as big a threat as ever,” Kemp said. “We need all Georgians to continue to act responsibly in the best interest of their loved ones and fellow citizens to limit the spread over the holiday weekend.”

More than 550,000 people in Georgia have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. As of Wednesday, the virus had killed 9,808 Georgians. In Cherokee County there have been 1,876 cases of COVID-19 so far and 125 deaths.

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