Some Alabama vaccine sites working at fraction of capacity as state last in nation on vaccination rate

Published 9:25 pm Wednesday, April 21, 2021

With Alabama struggling to improve its last-in-the nation vaccination rate for COVID-19, officials say workers at some immunization sites in the state are providing only a fraction of the shots they could give out.

A vaccination clinic in its third week of operation in Lauderdale County has provided about 500 doses, but project manager Mike Melton told WAAY-TV the site could easily provide 500 shots a day “if the demand was there.”

“I’m not sure if people are worried about long lines we’ve seen historically. You can see here, that’s not an issue. Even if we have a bit of a line, it moves so quickly,” said Casey Willis, administrator at North Alabama Medical Center.

In metro Birmingham, where a mass vaccination site was set to open Wednesday at an outlet mall, some questioned whether the facility was even needed since so few people have shown up at an immunization site at the Birmingham Crossplex, an indoor sports facility.

“I don’t know that the demand is there to warrant another location,” Pauline Long, co-owner of Meds Plus, told WBMA-TV. The station reported that it visited three vaccination locations Tuesday, and none had lines or were requiring appointments.

Jefferson County’s top health official, Dr. Mark Wilson, said the county couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bring more vaccine doses to the state’s most populated area.

“We’re just trying to make sure vaccine is widely available. This is a new site in a new area and we’re also trying to serve the larger region,” he said.

Multiple Alabama hospitals also have seen a decline in demand for vaccines, said Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association. It’s unclear whether the addition of new immunization sites or low demand are behind the trend, he said, but some hospitals are looking at scaling back vaccination programs.

In heavily populated Mobile, USA Health is offering vaccines for the new coronavirus without a wait at the Civic Center. But only about 100 of the city’s 500 police officers have been vaccinated, even though first responders have been a priority for shots, WPMI-TV reported.

“You know, I am a little disappointed in the numbers,” said Public Safety Director Lawrence Battiste.

Hospitalizations linked to COVID-19 have jumped about 20% in less than two weeks in Alabama, where more than 523,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and almost 10,800 have died. While about 1.4 million in the state have received at least one dose of vaccine, Alabama is last nationally in its rate of immunizing people.