FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear urged Kentuckians to sign up for thousands of open vaccination appointments next week, warning 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 Thursday. 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,” 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, he said.

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 at a news conference. “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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.