MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama’s vaccine allocation is dismal at best, with no significant changes in production on the horizon. It’s currently receiving upwards of 60,000 doses of vaccine a week, nowhere near enough to cover the limited eligibility groups which include front line health care workers, first responders and those 75 years and older.
During a news conference on Friday, Alabama Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, M.D. said of the 883 providers enrolled to administer vaccines in Alabama, around 500 haven’t received a single dose due to the shortage.
As the Biden Administration works to aggressively ramp up vaccine production through the Defense Production Act, it could weeks or months before that could have any impact on the ground in Alabama.
“It’s been suggested to us if manufacturing efficiency improves, we might get a 1 to 3 percent increase [in vaccine supply] starting in a couple of weeks, but we don’t know that,” Harris explained. “We don’t know what we are getting until the day before we get it.”
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine could change that for the better, if all goes as planned. It’s expected to have the results from its clinical trials by the end of January, then apply for an emergency use authorization, or EUA. The vaccine is pre-produced, meaning a nod from federal regulators as early as February would deliver around 100 million initial doses.
“That’s more than 30 percent of what we’re getting right now,” Harris added. “That’s maybe 50 people more who would have been getting vaccine this week compared to the ones we were giving.”
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is attractive to most rural states like Alabama due to the lack of cold chain requirements, allowing it to be stored in a normal freezer. It’s also a 1 dose vaccine, which would allow Alabama to quickly increase its uptake.
“A one shot vaccine is really terrific,” Harris responded. “That’s been a real challenge with the mass vaccination clinics that you’ve seen in many other states on a first come first serve basis. If you get a shot and need to get another one, it involves the whole thing of getting in line and hoping it’s there when you get to it.”
The booster dose for Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines began rolling out in Alabama over the last 2 weeks. Harris says it’s not only tough to get people to come back for the second dose, it’s also an administrative challenge.
“If you are giving shots all day and every day and using all your staff and resources to do that, four weeks from now all that effort is going to go back to someone you’ve already seen without adding new patients,” Harris acknowledged.
The second vaccine doses muddies the state’s vaccine statistics. Harris says most providers have no unused vaccine, despite the numbers on the state’s vaccine dashboard. As soon as a first vaccine dose is given, the federal government allocates a second dose to Alabama for that recipient. Most of the unused doses on the dashboard are those second doses that cannot be touched or doses reserved for patients who have vaccine appointments.
“Every time someone gets a new shot of [vaccine] that’s a number that gets added to the allocation, yet that’s not a vaccine that’s available to us, we can’t touch it,” Harris stated. “We are told we will get it in about 4 weeks. I think that’s frustrating for the public - and sometimes we don’t even have that vaccine in question in the state.”