ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Governor Brian Kemp announced Georgia will expand the vaccination criteria to include people ages 55 and older and those with serious health conditions effective March 15, 2021.

“Many Georgians, 16 through adulthood, now will be eligible,” said Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey. The list of health conditions include asthma, cancer, hypertension, obesity, and several others.

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This comes as the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases, deaths and the number of hospitalizations continue to decline. “Every metric on the COVID-19 pandemic is headed in the right direction,” Kemp said. “We have made significant progress without a statewide mask mandate. The people of Georgia did this without shutting down restaurants or bars or closing churches or houses of worship.”

Dr. Toomey said health officials are closely monitoring the COVID variants. “We’ve seen a considerable number of variants throughout the state, particularly the UK variant.”

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The state will have a total of nine mass vaccination sites when an additional five locations open on March 17, 2021. “Our vaccine allocation, as it increases, we will continue to evaluate our current sites and to ensure that we’re operating in a way that maximizes our capacity and efficiency,” said Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Chris Stallings.

State officials are still working to address vaccine hesitancy. “This vaccine, as we have said many times, it is safe, it’s effective and it is our ticket back to normal,” said Kemp, also referencing efforts to get back to in-person classes in schools. “It is safe for kids to be in the classroom right now.”

Officials plan to expand the vaccine criteria even further next month, making all adults eligible. The demand is still expected to outweigh the supply, but officials say preparation is key.

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“For everyone currently eligible, I want to urge you to please make your appointment as soon as possible,”  Kemp said. You can register on the state vaccination website by clicking here. To find a COVID vaccination site, click here. Over 2,000 private providers, like Kroger and CVS, are also accepting appointments.