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State trying to boost sagging vaccination rate in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A state agency said Friday it will work with private organizations to encourage more elderly and disabled people to get vaccines for COVID-19, which is on the rise in Alabama as the state’s inoculation rate trails the nation.

With Alabama trailing only Mississippi in vaccinations and just 30% of the state’s population fully vaccinated against the illness caused by the new coronavirus, the Alabama Department of Senior Services said a new marketing campaign was aimed at overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

The agency will work with local agencies for the aging and disability organizations to encourage more people to get shots. A telephone hotline will allow people to reach local services and make vaccination appointments, which has been difficult for some disabled people.

“Through this new marketing campaign, ADSS is making it easy for Alabamians to connect with a live, local individual who can help provide information and resources specific to their needs,” Commissioner Jean Brown said in a statement.

Vaccination rates have dropped statewide to the lowest point since early this year, when doses were scarce and only certain people were eligible to receive shots. While less than a third of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, precautions like face masks and social distancing are increasingly rare in the state.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations are rising in a trend that is troubling to health experts. State statistics showed that 252 people were being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals on Thursday compared to a low of 166 late last month, and a larger percentage of people are testing positive for the illness than just a few weeks earlier.

While vaccinations have helped reduce illness levels and hospitalizations far below where they were earlier this year, officials are concerned that the state’s low vaccination rate and the emergence of new virus variants will combine to create a spike in illness in coming weeks.

“We are very, very concerned,” Dr. Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told reporters this week. “(A summer surge) is a very feasible scenario that I don’t like to think about, but I think we need to be prepared for.”

About 11,400 people in the state have died of COVID-19, and nearly 555,000 have tested positive.

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