Doctor: Alabama’s lagging vaccination rates a concern

Published 6:12 am Wednesday, June 9, 2021

An infectious disease expert said Monday that he is concerned about lagging vaccination rates in Alabama as well as the number of unvaccinated people who appear to have abandoned wearing masks.

Alabama has the second-lowest percentage of people vaccinated, ranking only above Mississippi, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Alabama, about 36% of the population has received at least one dose of vaccine and 29% are fully vaccinated.

“All of us want to get back to normal, every single one of us. The vaccine is our sure ticket to get there,” said Dr. Mike Saag, a professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

The CDC has said fully vaccinated people are safe to go without masks, but Saag said that message appears to have gotten misconstrued.

“What I saw over the Memorial Day weekend: Most everybody was walking around without a mask as if everyone was vaccinated. We know around 70% of the Alabama population has not been vaccinated,” he said.

The number of COVID-10 patients in state hospitals have dropped from a high of 3,000 in January to 225 on Monday. At the peak of the pandemic, Alabama was reporting up to several thousand cases per day, but now is reporting an average of 300 cases per day, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The Memorial Day holiday will serve as a “stress test” of sorts for the pandemic, Saag said. “It’s not going to be like the surges we saw in January, but it will be a bump. The question is how big will that bump be.”

Saag called the vaccine a “modern miracle.” But he said higher vaccination rates are needed to reduce the risk of a vaccine-resistant variant emerging.

“The longer we wait, the longer this virus churns in the population, the higher the risk that the variants that emerge could become relatively resistant to the immune response elicited by the vaccine,” he said.