FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear urged Kentuckians on Thursday to sign up for thousands of open vaccination appointments next week, warning that the state is in a race to head off the threat from COVID-19 variants.

At least 16,000 appointments are still open for COVID-19 shots next week in several Kentucky communities, the governor said at a news conference. Those vaccination sites — spanning much of the state — are in Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green, Pikeville and Christian County, he said.

“We are in an absolute race with variants to prevent any type of fourth surge and make sure we defeat this virus once and for all,” Beshear said.

The state's largest COVID-19 vaccination center is set to open Monday at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. That site has 11,000 available appointments next week, according to the governor.

Anyone 16 or older is eligible to be vaccinated in Kentucky. More than 1.5 million Kentuckians have received at least their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Beshear said.

“We can defeat COVID," he said. "I think we can substantially do so in the next couple months, but only if we get people out to get vaccinated.”

Beshear urged Kentuckians to sign up for whichever COVID-19 vaccine is available and not wait for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “The reason is we are not getting nearly the amount of it that we expected to by this point,” he said.

Beshear warned that if Kentuckians hold out for the Johnson & Johnson shot, “we may not win the race against the variants” and it will take longer to ease remaining COVID-related restrictions.

Meanwhile, the governor announced 645 new COVID-19 cases statewide and 16 additional virus-related deaths. Some of the deaths occurred months ago as the state continues an audit to get a comprehensive count of virus-related deaths. The state's death toll from the virus is at least 6,214.

The state's rate of positive cases was 2.81% More than 370 virus patients are hospitalized in Kentucky, including 102 in intensive care units, the state said.


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