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When COVID-19 vaccines will be available to the general public

With more vaccines being distributed, more questions are coming out about how and where to get them. Here is what we were able to find out.

ATLANTA — Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is now being distributed across the nation, there are major questions that many people have regarding how they can get vaccinated.

When will COVID-19 vaccines be available to the general public?

The vaccines are being phased in, based on the availability of the vaccine and a determination by federal and state officials on who needs the vaccines most. 

According to Biden administration Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy, it may take until late spring to finish vaccinating high-risk populations, if all goes according to plan. If that happens, the general public may be looking at a rough time-frame of the middle summer before widespread vaccine distribution begins.

Who exactly can get the COVID-19 vaccine?

While Georgia has expanded its eligibility guidelines to include adults age 65 and older, there are still strict limits on who can get the vaccine. 

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the coronavirus vaccine is being administered under what they have called "Phase 1a+." 

This phase includes: 

  • Healthcare workers - Physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, EMS personnel, environmental service workers, etc.
  • Residents and staff of long-term care facilities across the state.
  • Adults aged 65 and over, along with their caregivers.
  • Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders.

Other groups of people will be able to get vaccinated under later phases, most notably after larger supplies of vaccine become more widely available.

Where can I get a COVID vaccine?

The Georgia Department of Public Health points out that supplies of the COVID vaccine are very limited.

The DPH said local public health departments are scheduling vaccinations by appointment only, as are most other providers.

RELATED: Georgia COVID vaccine locator tool launched

"Depending on vaccine supply allocations from the federal government, it may be weeks before additional providers will have vaccine available for quicker and more widespread distribution," the DPH said in a release.

The Department of Public Health has started providing a list of COVID vaccination sites across the state. They said they plan to update the list frequently. Additional locations will be added when providers are ready to safely administer the vaccine and as supplies allow. View the list here.

How do I make an appointment for the COVID vaccine?

Many county health departments allowing individuals to make appointments for vaccinations on their websites. According to the Fulton County Board of Health, adults age 65 and older "are allowed up to two caregivers to get vaccinated as well." 

According to the DeKalb Board of Health, "vaccines will be given by appointment only based on vaccine availability. If there are no appointments available, that means we have exhausted our supply of vaccine. We will not release additional appointments until we have received more doses of vaccine to ensure we can meet the demand. No on-site registration will be permitted." 

Some Georgia counties aren't listed in the "COVID Vaccination site" page on DPH's website.

"If you’re looking for a COVID Vaccination Site in your location, be sure to check back often as the COVID Vaccination Site Locations list will be updated frequently," the page reads. " Additional locations statewide will be added when providers are ready to safely administer vaccine, and as vaccine supply allows."

The Georgia Department of Public Health has a state vaccine question hotline at 888-357-0169, but that is not for scheduling appointments. It is only for getting answers to questions from state health officials.

Who should not get a COVID-19 vaccine?

According to the CDC, some people have experienced severe allergic reactions after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

An allergic reaction is considered severe when a person has to be treated with epinephrine or an EpiPen, or if they must go to the hospital, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient in an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine should not get either of the currently available COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna). In addition, the CDC says that anyone who has a severe allergic reaction after receiving the first dose of an mRNA vaccine should not take the second dose.

Some people have had some non-severe allergic reactions within four hours after getting vaccinated, such as hives, swelling, and wheezing (respiratory distress).

The CDC is also recommending that anyone who has a minor allergic reaction to the first COVID-19 reaction not to get the second dose. 

In addition, the CDC said that anyone who has had an immediate allergic reaction to any vaccine or other injectable therapy to consult their doctor to determine whether or not they should get the COVID-19 vaccine.

RELATED: Answers to COVID-19 Vaccine access questions

Those who have other allergies -- food, pets, venom, environmental or latex allergies -- are advised by the CDC to go ahead and get the COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC said that people with a history of allergies to oral medications or a family history of severe allergic reactions may also get vaccinated.

CDC officials said that they have provided recommendations for COVID-19 vaccination providers on how to prepare for and handle the possibility of severe allergic reactions.

All people who get a COVID-19 vaccine should be monitored on-site. People who have had severe allergic reactions or who have had any type of immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine or injectable therapy should be monitored for at least 30 minutes after getting the vaccine. All other people should be monitored for at least 15 minutes after getting the vaccine.

Vaccination providers should have appropriate medications and equipment -- such as epinephrine, antihistamines, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and timing devices to check your pulse -- at all COVID-19 vaccination sites.

If you experience a severe allergic reaction after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, vaccination providers should provide rapid care and call for emergency medical services. You should continue to be monitored in a medical facility for at least several hours.

For more information about allergic reactions related to COVID-19 vaccinations, please visit the CDC's information page. You can also learn more on its page about allergic reactions.

How long after the COVID-19 vaccine am I protected?

According to the CDC, it typically will take a few weeks after vaccination for the body to build immunity. This means that it is possible that a person may be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after they are vaccinated and still get sick. 

In addition, the CDC said, this is also needed for individuals who have previously had COVID-19 in order to prevent re-infection with the virus.

It's important to note, the CDC said none of the authorized and recommended COVID-19 vaccines or the ones currently in development in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19.

And one other thing -- once you have received the vaccine, keep wearing your mask. While your own immune system will then be able to fight the virus, it won't stop you from being able to transmit the virus to others.

“You’re able to fight it off because you’ve had the exposure with the vaccine,” said Dr. Ashley Hannings of the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy. “But it’s not known whether or not you still might be able to transmit it to others.”

So, medical experts continue to recommend masks to help prevent transmission along with social distancing for everyone, even those who’ve had the vaccine.

As more people are vaccinated, researchers will learn more about the impact on transmitting the virus.

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