FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky will increase access to COVID-19 vaccinations next week by expanding eligibility to adults 50 and older, with a more dramatic acceleration set for April, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

The inoculation ramp-up will reach new heights in coming weeks, with Beshear making a commitment to open vaccine eligibility to every Kentuckian age 16 and older by April 12.

“We can’t have these things sitting in the freezer," the governor said, referring to vaccine doses. "We are in a race against these variants. We’ve got to get it out fast.”

The next phase of expanded vaccinations will start Monday when the 1C category will be widened to include Kentuckians age 50 and older. The segment has included people 60 and older, anyone older than 16 with high-risk medical conditions and anyone deemed an essential worker.

Beshear said he hopes to open vaccinations to everyone age 16 and older before April 12.

The Democratic governor sounded upbeat about vaccine supplies as the state expands eligibility.

“I think by the end of May, every adult Kentuckian 16 and older who wants the vaccine will have received their first shot of hope,” he said at a news conference. “The projections that I have seen of supply coming from the federal government make that more than possible.

"And that's based on a significant portion of the population wanting the vaccine,” he added.

Beshear also announced that three new regional vaccination sites will open — two in Louisville and one in western Kentucky. That will raise the number of vaccination locations to 570 statewide.

The vaccination site at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville will become the largest in Kentucky when it opens next month, he said. It will vaccinate up to 4,000 people per day based on available supply. Another location will open at Whitney Young Elementary in western Louisville.

In far western Kentucky, a regional vaccination site will open at the convention center at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park at Gilbertsville, the governor said.

The state has already administered more than 1 million COVID-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, the state reported 785 new coronavirus cases and 31 more virus-related deaths. Kentucky’s rate of positive cases fell to 3.23%, the lowest since July 3.

Kentucky's death toll, however, will increase based on an audit of deaths that occurred from November to the end of January. Beshear said the review confirmed an additional 604 deaths related to the coronavirus. Of that total, 417 were added to the state’s total virus death count Thursday, he said. The remaining 187 will be added in coming days, he said.

“Our commitment is to know the full devastation of this virus," the governor said. "And this won’t be the last audit that we do. And it won’t be the last time that we discover additional people who have passed away.”

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Find AP’s full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

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