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Gov. Kemp expands COVID-19 vaccine phase to include teachers, others

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 Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday that he is expanding who will be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the current phase.

During a news conference, Kemp said the current phase will now include teachers, parents of sick children and adults with developmental disabilities, as well as their caregivers. This is in addition to people who are over age 65 or a first responder. The new groups announced Thursday will be able to start getting the vaccine on March 8. Officials said Thursday’s announcement will add an estimated 1 million more people to the vaccine pool.

During the news conference, Kemp also urged school districts that haven’t returned to in-person learning, to do so.

“Our children cannot afford to wait until the fall. The costs are simply too high,” Kemp said. “Georgians deserve to return to normal as soon as possible, and that will not happen without schoolhouse doors open for face to face instruction each and every day.”

The news conference comes just a day after the FDA endorsed the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a single shot that doesn’t need to be refrigerated as cold as the other vaccines available.

The FDA could approve the new vaccine as early as Friday.

The coming Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely allow more Georgians to be vaccinated, along with the already approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Clinical trials from Johnson & Johnson showed the vaccine to be 85 percent effective at preventing severe cases.

The FDA reports that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and deaths.

“Johnson and Johnson vaccine may not be as good as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at preventing cases. However, the cases that do arise are mild,” said Public Health Microbiologist Dr. Amber Schmidtke.

Patrick O’Carroll, with the Atlanta-based task force is excited about how much simpler a one-dose vaccine is to manage. He said shipping to rural areas will be easier.

“A single dose vaccine that doesn’t require extraordinarily cold refrigeration is really something we need,” O’Carroll said.

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