Alabama health officer on vaccine says ‘Not enough to go around’

Published 9:20 pm Thursday, January 28, 2021

Alabama will soon announce a time frame for expanding who can get COVID-19 vaccinations, the state health officer told lawmakers Thursday. But he said the supply of vaccine coming into the state remains far short of what is needed.

“You’ll hear very soon about expanded eligibility as other states have done,” State Health Officer Scott Harris told lawmakers during budget hearings. Harris told reporters he expects to be able to discuss a time frame Friday. Currently, only health care workers, people 75 and older, first responders and nursing home residents are eligible for vaccinations.

Lawmakers described widespread public frustration and anger with the rollout, including sites running out of vaccine and some sites allowing younger people to get vaccinated. Harris said he understood the frustration but the state has been limited by the number of doses it receives.

“We all have constituents that are very frustrated, very anxious, very angry a lot of them about the vaccine rollout,” Republican Sen. Arthur Orr from Decatur said.

The state of 5 million people received 764,125 doses – enough to give about 380,000 people the two shots required for maximum protection. There are currently more than 700,000 people eligible for the vaccinations.

“I know it has been intensely frustrating for a lot of people,” Harris said. “The fundamental problem is there is not enough to go around.”

The Biden administration has recommended states make people over 65 eligible for the vaccine. Harris said they are working now to try to determine if there is enough capacity to handle that.

“We don’t have a lot of extra vaccine out there, but there may be a little bit,” Harris said.

Expanding eligibility to 1.5 million people would require 3 million doses when the state is getting about 60,000 first doses a week. The state is getting an extra 10,000 doses for the next three weeks but it is unclear how long that will last.

Alabama has more than 400,000 undistributed doses, according to state numbers. Harris said most of those are designated for people in upcoming appointments including second shots.

“The states that have the big giant clinics that you see that are giving out shots all day long, they tend to be giving out their second shots and just hoping the supply is going to keep up. Some of those states have turned away people who are showing up to get second shot because they have already given that shot to another person.

“That’s how you run your percentage up and get shots in arms really quickly but it doesn’t guarantee that people are going to get their second shot,” Harris said.

Auburn University has been vaccinating people under 75, including people with medical conditions or people who cant maintain distancing at work, according to the school’s vaccination plan.

Ryan Easterling, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said while some communities may be ahead of others, the state has reached out to Auburn “to clarify the allocation plan and ensure that community outreach has been adequate for current risk groups prior to entities moving to additional subsets of eligible groups.”