MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama is getting roughly half has much COVID-19 vaccine as it was expecting based on federal plans announced last year, officials said Friday, meaning it would take more than two years to vaccinate the state's adult population without improvement.
The state has 800 approved vaccination sites and is trying to deliver shots as quickly as it can, but supply issues have been the biggest hinderance to state vaccination efforts, said Dr. Scott Harris, the head of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“Every state had the idea that they were going to get much more vaccine than they ultimately got,” he told reporters during a briefing. “I assume this is related to optimistic projections and the inability of manufacturers to keep up that .... There just wasn’t enough vaccine to go around."
Alabama health officials were expecting to get more than 112,000 COVID-19 vaccination doses a week based on conversations with federal officials when Operation Warp Speed began last year. Instead, officials said, the state is getting about 50,000 to 60,000 doses a week. At that rate it would take more than two years to give Alabama’s adult population the two shots required for maximum protection.
Harris said federal officials later said the 112,000 figure was not a promise but a figure that the state should use in its planning.
Alabama has approved more than 883 pharmacies, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other providers to do vaccinations but only 364 have received any vaccine. He said only about 117 providers will get vaccine this week because of the available supply.
“We don’t have vaccine for most of them,” Harris said. “Some of those 364 are out. I think most are out from week to week.”
The state of nearly 5 million people has received 502,950 vaccine doses and 223,887 of those have been administered, according to state numbers. Harris said many of the unused doses are designated for patients in upcoming appointments for their second or first dose.
The vaccine rollout has been punctuated with frustration as people jammed a state appointment line to try to get an appointment for a shot.
Currently, Alabama is vaccinating health care workers, nursing home residents, first-responders and people age 75 and older. President Joe Biden’s administration has moved to expand national eligibility to people over 65 as part of a proposed vaccination blitz to get more shots in the arms.
Harris said the state will do so if that becomes the federal guidance but cautioned the state does not have enough vaccine to cover the more than 600,000 people currently eligible.
“We believe every one of those people deserves a vaccine and needs to get it as fast as possible. Yet at the same time adding hundreds of thousands of people to the lines we have right now, without any more vaccine, is going to be a difficult situation for everyone,” Harris said.
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said a survey of state hospitals last week found hospitals had given 83,000 doses and had 60,000 remaining. But of those 60,000 over 50,000 were scheduled to be given in appointments over the next seven days.
“The vaccine supply that we understand is headed to Alabama is significantly less than what we were originally expecting. All of which makes getting people vaccinated in an expeditious manner far more difficult,” Williamson said.
“We’ve got hospitals who say they can give 10,000 doses a week if they can get the vaccine. Another says they can give 15,000 to 20,000 if they can get the vaccine.”
Dr. Sarah Nafziger, vice president of Clinical Support Services at UAB Medicine, told reporters Tuesday that the large hospital could do additional mass-vaccination clinics if they can get the doses.
“The biggest barrier we have right now and really the only barrier is making sure we have vaccine doses,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense to stand up a mass vaccination site and bring all those people out there and schedule people to receive vaccine if we don’t have the doses to give."