Ala. remains in the dark over vaccine shipments, allocations

State health officer provides update on COVID cases, vaccinations

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - As Alabama passed grim new watermarks in the pandemic Monday, we also learned more about the unpredictability states are facing as they attempt to ramp up vaccination efforts.

At the time of publication, the state’s received around 226,000 combined doses of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. So far, around 19% of that allocation’s been administered to front-line health care workers. As of this week, 90 sites across the state are currently administering the vaccine.

While the vaccines are the first glimmer of hope in the pandemic, for states and those left to administer the doses, it’s been a real source of stress.

“I think that a really challenging part is that there’s not a national vaccination strategy”, stated Alabama’s Public Health Officer Scott Harris. “There’s 51 separate strategies, the feds haven’t wanted to weigh in on that other than give guidance and so every state around Alabama is doing things differently than we are.”

The rollout nationally and statewide is slower than anticipated. While many issues are fueling delays, uncertainty in the vaccine supply chain is a dominating factor.

“We never know how much we’re going to get until it’s on the road being shipped here”, Harris explained. “That obviously makes it very difficult when people are trying to plan for next week and how many shots do we think we can give next week and how many staff members do I have to have here and what hour do I have to be open. We can’t tell them how many doses they will receive.”

Alabama is currently on Phase 1a, vaccinating front-line health care workers. Hospitals are largely responsible for administering those doses.

Pfizer’s cold chain requirements allow for a very short shelf life outside the subzero cooler, forcing hospitals to plan vaccinations down the number each day. Missed appointments could result in spoiled vaccine.

The learning curve for administering both vaccines also contributed to a slower rollout early on. Alabama’s Phase 1b vaccination plan is expected to roll out in January. That level allocates doses for essential workers, first responders and those 75 years and older.

While Alabama’s personalized vaccine plan will open up to the elderly outside assisted living facilities in a matter of weeks, some other states are already offering vaccinations to this age demographic that’s been widely impacted by the virus.

Harris admits the lack of a uniform plan continues to be a source of contention for some.

“It creates a lot of confusion on the part of the public,” Harris acknowledged. “I think it creates resentment when people say, ‘Look, my look my counterparts who are in my demographic group in that state, they’re getting the vaccine but I’m still having to wait.’ There’s no good answer for that. Everybody who’s complaining that they can’t get the vaccine, they’re all correct. They all need it, they deserve it - and they’re all right.”

Given the supply chain challenges, there’s no way to estimate when the general public will have access to the vaccine.

“I think that we have a plan in place that gives us some sense of optimism that there’s hope on the horizon, but we’ve still got a ways to go,” Harris added. “I don’t think life’s going look a lot different anytime soon. We’ve got to get several more months before we have enough vaccine for everyone to get it whenever they want. We’ve got to get a lot of people vaccinated before we see the disease transmission interrupted.”

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