About a third of the more than 1,000 registered COVID-19 vaccine providers in Alabama will get vaccines from the state for this coming week, the state’s top public health official said Friday, a sign that the demand for vaccinations continues to outstrip the supply of doses.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris in a briefing with reporters Friday said that starting Monday, mass vaccination clinics in Anniston, Birmingham, Dothan, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Selma and Tuscaloosa will be administering up to a thousand vaccinations each day of the week. At least two of those clinics are already booked solid for the week, Harris said.
Those eight clinics are to open back in three to four weeks to administer the required second doses, Harris said.
“We would like to have large-scale clinics going all the time, but we just don’t have the supply to do that right now,” Harris said.
Harris said those eight clinics are largely being supplied by Pfizer vaccines that would have been shipped to the state’s other providers.
The Alabama Department of Public Health opens vaccinations up to those aged 65 and older and more frontline workers beginning Monday, which Harris said will mean that approximately 1.5 million Alabamians will be eligible to receive vaccinations.
“They all need two doses, at least with the products that we have right now,” Harris said. “That’s 3 million doses we need to cover those populations. We don’t have anywhere near that amount right now.”
Harris said the federal government is sending about 10,000 additional doses of vaccine each week, on top of what has been the state’s regular allotment. ADPH expects to have 74,325 doses of vaccine next week for the first of the two required doses, and an additional 60,825 doses for second shots, according to the department.
The state receives approximately 55,000 to 65,000 first does each week from the federal government, Harris said.
ADPH’s online vaccine scheduling website — found at alcovidvaccine.gov — went live last week, and Harris said that not all county health departments allow people to register for vaccination through the website, because of the types of clinics those counties may be operating. Some counties are holding walk-up clinics, he explained.
“Those who are given appointments, though, are pretty fully booked,” Harris said. “We have spent a month now, more than a month, giving people their first shots. It’s time for all those same exact people to come back and get their second shots, and so it makes it difficult to add a lot of new people, when we don’t have really a lot more vaccine.”
Harris said the drug company Johnson & Johnson on Thursday applied for an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the company’s COVID-19 vaccine. If approved, the single-shot vaccine will join vaccines already on the market by Moderna and Pfizer.
The additional vaccine is expected to help states meet demands, although Johnson & Johnson did not stockpile doses in advance of an emergency use authorization as the other two drug companies did, Harris said, so it will take time for production to ramp up.
“We would hope that maybe we can see some products shipping in two and a half to three weeks or so,” Harris said.
About half of the Walmart pharmacies in Alabama could soon begin scheduling and administering vaccinations as part of a federal program to ship vaccines to approximately 21 national pharmacy chains, Harris said. Once the state’s program begins, people will be able to schedule for vaccinations on Walmart’s existing website.
“We certainly hope that it will begin within the next 10 days or so,” Harris said.
Harris said those Alabama Walmart pharmacies are expected to receive approximately 15,000 initial doses of vaccine. Walmart is expected to make an announcement about the Alabama program soon, he said.
Alabama providers have administered 436,962 doses of the state’s 836,975 doses shipped to the state, according to ADPH’s vaccine dashboard. That’s approximately 52 percent of the state supply. An additional 46,328 doses have been administered in long-term care facilities, out of 86,775 doses shipped for use in those facilities. Approximately 78,276 Alabamians have received both doses, Harris said.
ADPH plans to soon begin publishing demographic data on who’s being vaccinated, to include age and race, but Harris said the department has found problems in data reporting.
“There’s holes in the data,” Harris said. “We’re not always collecting everything that we get. Some of it’s not correct.”
Preliminary data, however, shows that approximately 41 percent of the state’s vaccinations have gone to those over the age of 70, Harris said.
“I think we know that there are plenty of people we have not yet reached in the 75 and up group, and so we will certainly continue to prioritize those people,” Harris said.
Harris asked that the public refrain from holding Super Bowl parties with those from outside their own households, and to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
“We will encourage everyone to remember that in terms of the COVID epidemic that we’ve been in now for a year, we’re in the fourth quarter of this and it is not the time to fumble the ball because you were careless,” Harris said.
Harris said that despite the vaccine supply problem, he still believes the state will begin vaccinating the general public, not already covered under one of the high-risk groups, by summer. He cautioned, however, that not everyone will be able to get their shot as quickly as they’d like, once the state moves into further categories.
“I think that timeline is still the same, but what’s changed is people’s expectations,” Harris said.