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Alabama expanding vaccine eligibility despite lack of doses

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama will roughly double the number of people eligible to receive immunizations against COVID-19 next month even though there’s still not enough vaccine for everyone who qualifies for a shot, the head of the state health agency said Friday.

Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said everyone 65 and older; educators; court officials; corrections officers; postal employees; grocery store workers; some manufacturing workers; public transit workers; agriculture employees; state legislators and constitutional officers will be eligible to get vaccinations when the program expands on Feb. 8.

Currently, only people 75 and older; first responders, health care workers and long-term care residents are eligible. The state has been hearing complaints that more people aren’t allowed to get in line for shots.

The change means that as many as 1.5 million people in the state will qualify for shots, up from about 700,000 currently, Harris said during a media briefing. But there still won’t be enough vaccine. Harris pleaded with healthier, younger people who are at reduced risk for the virus to let others go first.

“We need people to understand there’s not enough to go around,” Harris said.

The state will receive extra doses of vaccine over the next few weeks and plans to open large, drive-through clinics in the cities of Anniston, Birmingham, Dothan, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Selma and Tuscaloosa, Harris said. But that boost may not be permanent and won’t alleviate the overall shortage, he said.

Expanding eligibility to 1.5 million people would require 3 million doses, when the state is getting about 60,000 first doses a week.

More than 7,300 people in Alabama have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and some 452,000 have tested positive. While the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with serious health problems including diabetes, cardiovascular disease.

The vaccine shortage means there aren’t enough doses available to expand eligibility to everyone who is at greater risk for the illness since so many people in the state have underlying health problems, said Harris.

“Alabama is not a healthy state at baseline even before COVID,” he said.

Almost 324,000 doses had been provided statewide through Thursday night out of the roughly 772,000 that have been delivered to Alabama, he said. About 4,000 vaccine doses that weren’t being used quickly enough in doctor’s offices and smaller county health offices have been reallocated, Harris said, and every remaining dose “has someone’s name on it” through appointments for a first or second shot.

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