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Answers to COVID-19 vaccine access questions

The state expanded eligibility for vaccination in early January, creating a new flood of demand.

ATLANTA — Georgia began expanding vaccine availability to adults who are 65 and older on Jan. 11, as well as law enforcement and first responders.

It's created a flood of new demand so far, which has in some instances overwhelmed the capacities of local public health districts.

RELATED: Georgia COVID vaccine locator tool launched

Officials are asking for patience, noting that telephone lines and websites run by local districts aren't necessarily accustomed to huge waves of traffic.

In the meantime, though, in some respects it does create a vacuum where people are looking for answers. 11Alive has been receiving a number of questions all day, and will attempt to provide some clarity here:

  • Who's eligible under the new rules? The state has expanded eligibility to adults 65 and over, as well as law enforcement, firefighters and other types of first responders. Frontline healthcare workers and the residents and staff of long-term care facilities were already eligible.
  • If I get a vaccine, will they set up an appointment for me to get my second dose? This has been a point of frustration for many people who have called and emailed 11Alive, and it basically comes down to your county health department or the hospital/private provider where you're getting vaccinated. Fulton County's Dr. David Holland told 11Alive's Tracey Amick Peer that people who already received their first dose will be getting an email to schedule a date to get their second dose, so they should not have to be calling in on the phone at all. "We are reserving slots for the second dose," Holland assured. "There are plenty of them and you'll be contacted directly." The county did say they were going to start setting up appointments for the second dose when people are given their first dose.
  • Can I call the state to schedule an appointment? No, only local public health districts are setting up appointments. There is a state vaccine question hotline at (888) 357-0169, but it is not for scheduling appointments.
  • Where can I find info on my local health district? 11Alive has compiled a list of health district setups by county throughout the Atlanta metro and north Georgia.
  • What if all the appointments are taken? That appears like it might be the case in some circumstances. In District 2, for example, which covers much of northeast Georgia, many of the county registration calendars don't appear to have any availability right now. That could be that they filled up already, or haven't made it fully operational yet - but in either case, you'll just have to be patient and periodically check with your health department. Georgia, like every other state, simply does not have enough doses for everyone who wants one just yet. They expanded eligibility, however, because there were some districts where those who were first eligible weren't using them up, and they wanted to make sure at least somebody got them. See below for more info.

RELATED: 'Sitting in freezers': Georgia expanding vaccine access because many rural healthcare workers won't take it

  • When will new appointments open up? That would vary by district, but unfortunately it's not something they're going to have an answer to right away, as it will depend on vaccine availability that they can't control. Districts appear to be announcing in advance when they're going to open up new appointment slots, so the best advice we can give you is to just check, at least daily, your public health district site.
  • Can I get the vaccine from my hospital? Increasingly, hospitals who have administered vaccines to their workers are now turning to vaccinating patients within their network. The best thing to do is check the website or call your health provider - here, for example, is how Emory Healthcare is handling things.
  • What if my local health district website is down? This has been the case for some districts today as interest in vaccine has skyrocketed. Right now the best answer we can give you is just to try and be patient, as officials work to restore website service. The state did say Monday afternoon it is "currently in discussions to create a centralized system for vaccination and/or mass vaccination sites to provide additional access to vaccine, as vaccine supplies allow."
  • Can I try contacting a different health district to set up an appointment? We would urge you not to. It's not clear if the state explicitly bans it, but the district health websites that are working and taking registrations do ask for information such as your address, so they will know if you're trying to come in from another area. If you go ahead and try to schedule an appointment anyway, they may ignore you or tell you you're not eligible, and in the meantime you could be slowing down a system that the people in that district need access to.
  • Can I try to go to a private provider, such as a pharmacy? You can do that, and you can find contact information for private pharmacies and clinics here, as well as information about the initiatives going on at Kroger here and Publix here.
  • Could I go to a private provider in another county? It's hard to see why a pharmacy would turn you away if you've successfully made an appointment with them, but if you set up an appointment with a pharmacy or other kind of health facility you should make sure to clear that up with them.

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