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Vaccine distribution widens

The Alabama Department of Public Health reports there have been 417,528 cases and 6,030 deaths because of COVID-19 in Alabama as of Jan. 15 – but hope is thought to be on the horizon as vaccine distribution spreads.

According to the ADPH, nearly 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alabama, with nearly 380,00 doses of the 640,150 doses allocated to Alabama having been delivered.

Monday the ADPH began vaccinating individuals 75 and older, law enforcement officers and firefighters, in addition to healthcare workers, at county health departments by appointment statewide. Prior to Monday vaccines were being limited to healthcare workers only.

“Because COVID-19 vaccine administration is a priority, ADPH will be limiting or reducing other public health services at county health departments for the foreseeable future in order to have enough providers to administer every available dose of COVID-19 vaccine,” noted a press release from the ADPH.

The department has urged continued patience – and appreciation for that patience – of all citizens during this time, especially with concerns about lack of expected COVID-19 vaccine and decreased access.

“The demand for vaccine continues to greatly exceed supply, as Alabama has more than 326,000 healthcare workers and nearly 350,000 people who now qualify for a vaccine because they are 75 years old and older,” the ADPH release explained. “Priority access to vaccine cannot be granted to other groups of people yet as ADPH follows the recommendations of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the allocation of this limited supply.”

After the ADPH announced Jan. 8 that seniors 75 and older, firefighters and law enforcement officers would be eligible to schedule vaccine appointments in the coming week, it wasn’t long before the immediate response began to overwhelm healthcare workers across the state.

The ADPH issued a plea that afternoon, asking citizens not to call their local hospital directly to set up vaccine appointments.

“We have learned that hospital switchboards are being overwhelmed with phone calls, which is creating an obstacle to patient care,” the department noted. “Hospitals throughout Alabama are overwhelmed in providing care to both COVID-19 patients as well as responding to all other medical needs of our citizens.

“Additional information will be provided when hospitals and locations other than county health departments have vaccine (doses) available for additional groups.”

Emphasis on getting the vaccine to frontline workers remains paramount, even as the ADPH begins expanding appointments to seniors. The addition of seniors is not a full expansion into the next phase of the vaccine rollout, according to the ADPH.

“I appreciate the swift work of ADPH to establish a system to efficiently provide our limited resources of vaccine to as many Alabamians as possible,” said Gov. Kay Ivey. “We have previously worked to provide vaccines to our healthcare workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic and now are diligently working to expand access to our seniors, law enforcement officers and various members of our first responders.”

Two vaccines have been authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration: the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is a two-dose vaccine shown to be 95 percent effective, and the Moderna vaccine, also a two-dose vaccine, shown to be about 94 percent effective, according to the ADPH.

“We recognize that demand for vaccine exceeds supply,” said State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris. “While there is still an insufficient amount of the vaccine supply, we want to maximize our resources to help protect Alabamians at high risk.”

County health departments, Scott said, are working with local distribution points to assess what their vaccination reach has been.

The ADPH has noted it does not agree with data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranking Alabama near the bottom in vaccine administration.

“ADPH, as part of its ongoing review of vaccine data, determined that some entities did not report complete information, which meant that some doses administered were not included in CDC numbers. This issue has been corrected, and providers are reminded that all doses of COVID-19 vaccine must be recorded in the system within 24 hours of administration.”

“Decisions about the next groups to vaccinate are made at the community level with community engagement,” Harris added. “If the very high-risk population has been covered adequately, providers can then begin vaccinating people in the other priority groups.”

While trying to address the needs of Alabamians in the currently identified groups, ADPH continues working to improve COVID-19 vaccine scheduling capabilities by creating an online registration portal in addition to its extremely busy toll-free hotline: According to the ADPH, the hotline received more than 1.1 million calls the first day it was open to the public.

In the meantime, to schedule an appointment at a county health department, eligible individuals may call the ADPH toll-free phone number at 1-855-566-5333. Telephone calls are answered from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week.

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit https://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/vaccine.html.