Alabama health officials urges people to get COVID-19 shots next week to allow for safe holidays

Published 8:30 pm Friday, October 8, 2021

Alabama’s best hope for avoiding another holiday spike of COVID-19 infections and deaths lies in large part on people who’ve not been vaccinated getting a jab next week, the state health officer said Friday.

Dr. Scott Harris, head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, told a news briefing in Montgomery it takes five or six weeks for someone to gain the maximum amount of immunity from the coronavirus after the initial vaccine in a two-shot process. That means time is nearly up for people to start the vaccination process and have “the safest possible Thanksgiving,” he said.

Harris said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays won’t be as deadly as last year because of vaccinations and the large number of people who have antibodies after contracting COVID-19, but there’s no guarantee.

“We just don’t know,” he said.

While statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 2.6 million people in Alabama have gotten at least one vaccination, only 2.1 million, or 43% of the state’s population, are fully vaccinated, which is among the worst in the nation.

More than 14,700 people have died of COVID-19 in Alabama, giving the state the fourth-worst death rate nationally, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. About 1 in 330 people have died from the pandemic in Alabama compared to about 1 in 500 nationally, Harris said.

New infections and hospitalizations have declined dramatically in recent weeks, with roughly 1,000 being treated now compared to nearly 2,900 at the beginning of September.

“It’s not a great situation but it’s about two-thirds less than we were seeing a month ago,” he said.

With the drop in hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases, East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika said it was loosening visitation policies to allow patients to have additional visitors.

“While we do have concerns about the upcoming holidays because of the spike that occurred after the holidays last year, the Delta variant that caused the recent surge seems to be weakening even though it is still the dominant strain in the U.S.,” hospital spokesperson John Atkinson said in a statement.

More school districts are dropping mask requirements as cases decline and it’s increasingly rare to see masks or social distancing in public, but Harris said it was too soon to end all safeguards.

“We’re not requiring masks but my medical opinion as a physician is when there’s a pandemic going on you ought to wear a mask,” he said. “That’s the least you can do.”