ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia officials have now identified five cases of a COVID-19 variant in the state, raising the urgency to get people vaccinated.
State Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey reported the latest figure at a news conference Thursday. It's up from one variant case earlier this month.
The jump is not surprising. Mutations of the virus are emerging quickly, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said a new version first identified in the United Kingdom may become dominant in the U.S. by March. Although it doesn’t cause more severe illness, it spreads much more easily and will therefore lead to more hospitalizations and deaths, according to the CDC.
The current vaccines seem to provide protection against new variants, but health experts warn that the potential for a variant that eludes current vaccines increases the longer it takes to vaccinate people.
Toomey said Thursday health departments in Georgia are now scheduling residents for a required second vaccine dose at the time they administer the first dose.
Gov. Brian Kemp said the state will have its full weekly allotment of 120,000 doses for distribution starting next week. CVS and Walgreens were taking 40,000 doses each week for use at long-term care facilities, but Kemp said they no longer need additional supply for that effort.
Georgia's vaccine rollout has gotten off to a slow start, but Kemp said providers were getting better at administering the vaccines, and the state was working on remaining issues.