Alabama struggling to fix overwhelmed vaccination hotline

Published 6:26 am Thursday, January 14, 2021

A state vaccination hotline was quickly overwhelmed by thousands of callers seeking immunizations during the coronavirus pandemic and “has not worked very well,” but officials are trying to fix the problem, a top Alabama health leader said Wednesday.

Dr. Karen Landers, the assistant state health officer, told a news conference the hotline, run by a contractor, was not able to handle the initial demand when it began operating, despite having 100 lines and 165 workers trained to answer calls. The phone number received 1.1 million calls in its first day, the Department of Public Health said previously.

Besides adding additional capacity to the hotline, Landers said, workers are trying to get an online system in place so people can make reservations for vaccinations without calling.

But even if the problems are resolved, she said, all the vaccine doses the state has received so far have been spoken for. Additional shipments are needed to fulfill the state’s initial vaccine allotment of 271,000 doses, she said.

“What vaccine we have in Alabama we will give,” Landers said during a briefing with Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

Landers said more than 87,000 people had been vaccinated as of Monday in Alabama, which has a population of 4.9 million. The first doses went to health care workers, and the hotline was flooded after the state opened up appointments for people 75 and older.

With 440,000 people in the north Alabama city and surrounding Madison County, Battle said, it will take “quite a while” for everyone to receive shots even at a pace of 10,000 shots weekly.
“It’s a math problem,” Battle said.

More than 2,500 people in the 75-and-up age bracket have requested vaccination appointments at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, and the hospital said it will have vaccinated about 300 in that group by Friday, spokesman John Atkinson said in a statement.

More than 5,700 people have died in Alabama of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, state statistics show, and more than 2,900 are hospitalized, a slight improvement from earlier in the month. Nearly 411,000 people have tested positive for the virus.

While COVID-19 causes only mild to moderate symptoms in most people, it can be deadly for the elderly and people with other serious health problems.