Alabama Vaccine

Dr. Lynn Ridgeway, a pulmonologist, pulls up his sleeve as he receives one of the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines given to front line workers at Helen Keller Hospital on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Sheffield, Ala.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) have cleared the way for COVID-19 vaccinations to become available to state residents 75 years and older, as well as first responders including law enforcement and firefighters, beginning Jan. 18.

Announced Friday, the move does not fully open a new phase in ADPH’s tiered vaccination administration plan, which prioritizes medical and front-line emergency workers over at-risk seniors and, at a lower priority, the general population. Nevertheless, state health officer Dr. Scott Harris said Friday in a release that the department is attempting to maximize the available doses it has, while planning the next phase of the full rollout.

“We recognize that demand for vaccine exceeds supply,” said Harris. “While there is still an insufficient amount of the vaccine supply, we want to maximize our resources to help protect Alabamians at high risk. County health departments are working with their local points of distribution to assess what their vaccination reach has been. Decisions about the next groups to vaccinate are made at the community level with community engagement. If the very high-risk population has been covered adequately, providers can then begin vaccinating people in the other priority groups.”

Vaccines for seniors 75 years and older and first responders will be available by appointment only, and they’ll be administered on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Appointments for the free COVID-19 vaccination can be made by calling the ADPH toll-free phone number at 1-855-566-5333. Telephone calls are answered from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week. In Cullman County, vaccines will be administered at the county health department and at Cullman Regional. A full listing of vaccination locations statewide can be viewed online at https://go.usa.gov/xARKp. Additional specific information, such as what to bring and what to wear, will be provided at the time appointments are scheduled.

Opening the vaccine to people 75 and up means that approximately 350,000 Alabamians would qualify. APDH stressed that local residents should not contact the hospital directly to schedule their appointments, but should use the ADPH toll-free number.

“We have learned that hospital switchboards are being overwhelmed with phone calls, which is creating an obstacle to patient care,” the department said in a separate statement Friday. “Hospitals throughout Alabama are overwhelmed in providing care to both COVID-19 patients as well as responding to all other medical needs of our citizens.”

The new availability to seniors and first responders stems, in part, from the vaccine’s brief shelf life. “As the vaccine uptake for this category is satisfied, ADPH is now encouraging sites to vaccinate persons in the 75-plus age group and those in the law enforcement and firefighter vocations in order to prevent any loss of vaccine due to cold chain storage requirements,” the department noted.

“I appreciate the swift work of ADPH to establish a system to efficiently provide our limited resources of vaccine to as many Alabamians as possible,” Ivey said in the release. “We have previously worked to provide vaccines to our health care workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic, and now, are diligently working to expand access to our seniors, law enforcement officers and various members of our first responders. It is critical for everyone to remain patient; demand is high, and supply is low. ADPH and their partners are working around-the-clock to assist as many people as they can.”

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