Decatur Morgan Hospital is administering about 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per week, and increasingly it is taking them into the community rather than waiting for people to show up at its Parkway campus clinic.
The hospital has so far administered about 13,000 doses of two-shot vaccines, according to Noel Lovelace, director of development.
In addition to scheduling individuals for vaccinations, she said the hospital is working with 30 to 40 large employers to give doses to workers.
“We have an outreach team that’s working with some of the larger organizations, like businesses and industries on the river, and we’re taking the vaccine to their places of business and administering them on site,” she said. “It’s a big undertaking, but it helps us be more efficient if we can work with groups that are already organized.”
A $285,000 mobile vaccination unit, paid for by the Decatur Morgan Hospital Foundation, is currently being built. Lovelace said she hopes it will be in service by April 1.
“We’ll use it to take vaccines out to senior centers and other places where people congregate where we might be able to use some infrastructure that’s already in place to help organize people to see how many people we can reach. We’re eager,” she said.
The hospital is also beginning to coordinate outreach programs with various organizations to encourage their members to take the vaccine.
“We’re hoping to reach people who may be hesitant to get it,” Lovelace said.
Some of the outreach will be through videos made by medical staff when they received the vaccine.
“We’re going to be reaching out to lots of organizations — churches, the Community Action Partnership, NARCOG, Hands Across Decatur (a nonprofit helping the homeless). It’s a pretty big operation,” she said.
Those eligible for vaccinations will expand statewide Monday, when people 55 and older, those with high-risk medical conditions, a broadened group of critical workers and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities will become eligible. People ages 16 and 17 with a medical condition that place them at high risk are included in the expanded eligibility, although only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for this age group.
COVID-19 numbers locally could hardly look better, with new cases per day in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties down to levels not seen since early in the pandemic.
Judy Smith, administrator for the Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District, sounded almost giddy with relief Wednesday after struggling through a Morgan County peak at the beginning of the year when an average of more than 100 people were testing positive for the virus per day and almost that many COVID-19 patients filled Decatur Morgan Hospital’s beds.
She warned, however, that after the disease peaked in mid-July and before the explosion of cases beginning in late December, it also seemed the disease was under control. It wasn’t.
“When I go to places, I see that people feel like it’s basically over,” she said. “Is that concerning? Yes, it is. Because we’ve been down that road before. It’s gotten us in trouble before. Things are definitely going in the right direction, but we don’t need to veer off the highway until we get the pandemic under control.”
She said she’s especially worried about the possibility of spring break leading to increased transmission of the virus if people fail to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands frequently.
With that caveat, however, she said the news is good. Morgan County is one of 29 counties in the state in which at least 1 in 5 residents have been vaccinated. On Wednesday, Morgan County had 10 new cases of COVID-19 reported, about the same as the daily number over the last month and a fraction of its peak. Decatur Morgan Hospital had 12 COVID-19 patients Wednesday, just over 10% of its peak and about the same as its hospitalizations have been most of this month.
Health departments in Morgan, Lawrence and Limestone counties were closed Wednesday due to weather concerns, but Smith said people who were scheduled for vaccinations that day should go to their health department today before 2 p.m. She said she expected all who missed vaccines Wednesday will be worked in today, but if not, a separate clinic will be scheduled in the next few days.
Smith said the broadened vaccine eligibility that begins Monday is not being met with an increase in vaccines shipped to county health departments in north Alabama.
“We’re really excited about (the eligibility expansion) because there are so many people that need it and want it, but the health department is not getting any more vaccine than it’s had,” she said. While vaccine doses available to the county health departments have increased over time, “right now we’re kind of at a fixed level.”
She said vaccine providers such as the Walmart in Hartselle and the CVS in Decatur, which receive vaccine doses that do not come from the state's weekly first-dose allocation of about 110,000 doses per week, will help in the effort to handle increased demand beginning Monday.
“Is there enough vaccine? No there’s not. Are we going to get there? Yes, we are,” she said.
Statewide, about 1.3 million vaccine doses have been administered and 496,068 people — about 13% of the state’s adult population — have completed their vaccine series, according to the ADPH.