By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala (AP) — Alabama is expanding eligibility later this month for COVID-19 vaccinations to more frontline workers, residents with certain chronic health conditions, and people 55 and older, state officials announced Friday.
“We have been concerned that many people at high risk and others engaged in close-contact work have not been eligible to receive the vaccine yet, but with the additional vaccine supply we are better able to meet the needs of Alabama residents,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement.
The expansion, starting March 22, will add over 2 million people to the groups who can receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Alabama, roughly doubling the number of people now eligible.
The dramatic increase comes at a time when demand continues to exceed supply and will increase the competition to find shots.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said Alabama expanded eligibility because of the expectations of the public — particularly as they see people in other states getting shots — and health officials’ expectations that the supply will jump over the coming weeks.
“I would just encourage people to please remember to be patient. They have been patient for so long and we are really very very close to having enough vaccine to go around. I think in a month, probably six weeks at least, there is going to be more than an adequate supply of vaccine,” Harris told reporters Friday.
The new eligible groups include more frontline workers; people 55 and older; those with intellectual and developmental disabilities; and residents age 16 to 64 with certain high-risk medical conditions. The qualifying medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, smoking, obesity, sickle cell disease and heart conditions.
More workers will also be eligible for the shots, including restaurant staff, transportation workers, construction workers, bank tellers, legal professionals and members of the news media.
Alabama currently ranks near the bottom for the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 16.1% of the state’s 4.9 million people have received at least one vaccination dose.
Harris said the department conducted surveys to try to gauge vaccine hesitancy and found up to 30% of adults are reluctant to take the vaccine.
Some of those are “people who simply just need better information. We need to find away to educate them,” Harris said. He said others are people who have “other ideas about vaccinations in general or even about the coronavirus event in general.”
Since the pandemic began, more than 500,000 Alabamians have tested positive for COVID-19.
Ivey has directed flags to be placed at half-staff on Saturday to honor and remember the more than 10,000 Alabamians who lost their lives to the COVID-19 pandemic, her office announced.
The announcement of the expanded eligibility comes a year after the first COVID-19 case was identified in the state. Harris noted the remarkable work that went onto developing the vaccines.
“The vaccine response to COVID-19 is really going to be like landing on the moon was for some of us of a certain age,” Harris said.