Alabama’s COVID-19 vaccination effort has been expanded to make everyone 65 and older, as well as numerous additional workers in frontline essential services, eligible for the vaccine as of Feb. 8 – even though the state doesn’t have enough vaccine to go around.
The announcement came from State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, who said those eligible also include first responders, corrections officers, those who work in all forms of education from pre-school to college, as well as workers in childcare, food and agriculture, the U.S. Postal Service, manufacturing, grocers and public transit. Members of the clergy are also eligible.
The action also will extend eligibility to judges, district attorneys, state legislators, members of the Alabama Supreme Court and appellate judges, and heads of state cabinet agencies. This is part of an effort to maintain continuity in state government.
Harris said there are around 700,000 people in the group made eligible in Friday’s announcement. When this is combined with the initial group, more than 1.5 million people in Alabama are now eligible to be vaccinated.
But the expansion comes as the state struggles with getting enough doses of the two available vaccines out to those previously eligible.
Harris acknowledged that he was giving “mixed signals” to those awaiting their turn, because there are not yet enough doses available to vaccinate the expanded group.
“We’ve tried to do this with appropriate timing and tried to manage people’s expectations as we rolled out what limited vaccine that we have,” Harris said. “But there is a tremendous amount that we hear from officials and from the public about that. It certainly hasn’t helped people’s expectations when our sister states have already dropped the age group to 65 and up.
“We want to communicate just as strongly that there’s not enough vaccine to go around,” Harris added. “Just because you’re eligible, please give your spot in line to somebody who’s more deserving.”
Among those Harris listed as being at higher risk are those with serious medical conditions, and those who cannot protect themselves otherwise from the virus for some reason.
The rollout of the state’s online vaccine scheduling system is behind schedule, but Harris said he hopes it can be running as early as the first of next week. However, most appointments through county health departments are booked solid through February and well into March.
“Even though we’re trying to make this scheduling as easy as possible, even though we’ll have this up and going for everybody to use who can navigate a computer, there’s not any extra vaccine that goes along with that,” Harris said. “We acknowledge that it’s been a frustrating process, and as long as we have this shortage, I think people are still going to going to be having to wait until we have enough to go around.”
Alabama’s distribution effort has come under fire on many fronts, including a ranking of last in the nation by the federal Centers for Disease Control.
With the expansion announcement, UAB Hospital is already making plans with the Jefferson County Department of Health, the city of Birmingham and the city of Hoover to open additional vaccination centers in the Birmingham area. Clinical Support Services Vice President Dr. Sarah Nafziger said in a Friday press conference that Parker High School and Hoover Metropolitan Stadium will be added to the current site at UAB Highlands, which has been vaccinating those ages 75 and older in a drive-through setting since Jan. 18. That site will add patients from Cooper Green Mercy Health Services. The JCDH also is operating separate vaccination sites.
The drive-through vaccinations at the Hoover Met will start Feb. 2 for those 75 and older. Details for the Parker site are still being developed, Nafziger said. Appointments for UAB patients may be set up online at www.uabmedicinevaccine.org. Those who are not UAB patients and live in Jefferson County may use the Emergency Management Agency’s online portal at www.jeffcoema.org, then click on the green button, to register for appointments at any site in the county.
Nafziger emphasized that those who have already registered through the UAB or EMA portals should not do so again. “It’s not going to get you served any faster, and it will slow down the process as we have to remove duplicate entries from the system,” she said.
If enough vaccine doses were available, Nafziger estimated that UAB could handle 17,000 patients per week.
“We don’t have that much vaccine available right now,” Nafziger said. But UAB will be ready to deliver any amount of vaccine it gets from the health department.
Some doctors also have the vaccine, and you can call your doctor directly to set up an appointment. Doctors are bound by the same rules on who should be allowed to get the vaccine at this point.