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Harris explains vaccine distribution gaps

By CAROLINE BECK Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala – State Health Officer Scott Harris explained on Friday why there is still such a large gap between how many COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to how many have been delivered to providers.

Many of the vaccines in the “delivered” count also include second doses which can only be given three to four weeks after a person’s first dose. The slowness of vaccine administration in the state is not due to lack of ability but rather lack of supply, Harris explained during a press conference.

“In public health we have appointments going into February,” Harris said. “We do have doses on the shelf, if you want to call it that, for people who just haven’t been able to get it yet but we’re trying to do those people as quickly as we possibly can.”

According to ADPH data, 223,887 doses have been administered so far out of the 446,400 doses delivered to Alabama providers. Doses administered through the Federal Long Term Care Program are 25,469 out of the 56,550 delivered to Alabama.  

Some confusion on state allotment amounts was recently seen in the form of a letter sent from state senators saying Alabama’s vaccine distribution pipeline problems would the state’s ability to get more doses at risk.

Harris said he has not been alerted by anyone in the federal government of vaccine allocation standards being changed to pace instead of by population but if it did change, that would mean bad news for Alabama.

“That would be an issue for those states like Alabama that are large and rural and don’t have the same medical infrastructure as other states but no, no one has brought that up or mentioned it and it hasn’t come up by anyone who is in authority,” Harris said.

Harris has talked to people in the Biden transition team, and they will start having regular calls with the Biden administration soon. Harris said they haven’t indicated that the allocation policy will change.

For both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, two shots are required to receive the best immunity protection chances.

Harris said scheduling for the second dose can also be a challenge because the state doesn’t know how many they are getting until a day before they are shipped.

“That’s very frustrating for people trying to run clinics,” Harris said. “It’s hard to make an appointment if you don’t know if you’re going to get vaccine or not.”

Harris explained that right now Alabama gets about 50-60,000 doses every week, but those are all first doses. The amount allotted to Alabama is only dependent on population and not how many shots have been able to be administered so far.

Currently, there are more than 700,000 people eligible for vaccinations in Alabama, including 325,000 health care workers and 350,000 people who are 75 or older. 

Harris also said there might be a 1-3% increase in vaccine allotments for the state in February, but that will all depend on if vaccine manufacturing can increase.

Along with the explanation, Alabama’s Department of Public Health’s dashboard for vaccine distribution was updated on Friday to no longer show the number of vaccines allocated to Alabama to prevent any confusion.

As of Friday, Alabama has given out 195,831 first doses and 28,040 second doses, Harris said.

An online portal for those who are eligible to receive a vaccine and can sign up for an appointment will be going live in the coming days Harris said.

“It is certainly very important to us that we get that done before we expand our eligibility groups to other large groups because obviously, we’re going to need that,” Harris said.

ADPH has only been using a hotline number where Alabamians over 75 or first responders can call in to set up a vaccine appointment but it continues to receive an overwhelming amount of calls. 

ADPH also plans on releasing more data on county vaccine distribution and data on demographics once it has been certified, Harris said.

The new COVID-19 variants seen in some surrounding states like Georgia or Florida have not been detected yet in Alabama but Harris said it’s only a matter of time before it reaches Alabama.  

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