Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced the state would open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older beginning Monday, April 5. Ivey was speaking during a press conference as she visited an Alabama National Guard mobile vaccination clinic in Wilcox County.
“Our goal is simple, and that is to get shots off the shelf and into the arms of Alabamians,” Ivey said, encouraging everyone to reach out to those around them and help with the vaccination effort. “Tell your friends. Grab a neighbor. Reach out to your loved ones and encourage them to join you in getting your COVID-19 vaccination.”
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said “we were expanding because we do feel like we have available supply.”
It’s hard to measure whether that supply is due to vaccine hesitancy, or problems with access to care and transportation, Harris said, but the additional doses prompted them to act.
“It’s a little hard to measure that, but clearly, we are seeing some open appointments. We’re seeing some vaccine doses that we have available,” Harris said.
The state has administered 1.7 million vaccine doses, and 652,243 Alabamians have been fully vaccinated, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. The CDC ranks Alabama last for vaccinations per 100,000 residents. Most of the states at the bottom of the ranking are in the South.
Harris explained to APR on Wednesday that the state’s slow initial rollout, longstanding and widespread poverty, and a lack of access to medical care in Alabama and across the South have hampered vaccination efforts.
“We are expecting this coming week to have more than 160,000 first doses shipped into the state. That’s by far the most we have had so far,” Harris said, noting that some of that is the result of a once-time increase in doses.
State Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mary McIntyre said work is underway to get the vaccination message to young people, whom she said often “believe that they’re invincible.”
McIntyre says people should not refuse a vaccine because they are concerned about side effects, which she said are evidence that the vaccines are working, and building a defense against coronavirus.
“It may occur in some people and not in others, but that’s not a reason to not take the vaccine,” McIntyre said.
As Easter nears, Harris warned against people gathering indoors and without masks for long periods of time.
“For those people who are vulnerable, and particularly those people who are older or those people with chronic health problems, our advice still remains the same,” Harris said. “Please be careful about getting together in groups. Please wear a mask when you’re able to do that. Please make sure you’re careful about sanitation and hygiene.”
Ivey’s statewide mask order expires Monday, but she stressed the importance of continuing to wear masks as the threat from COVID-19 remains.
“Y’all. We’re getting so close to getting COVID-19 in the rearview mirror,” Ivey said. “And until then, we need to keep wearing, use common sense and use personal responsibility.”