The Morgan County Health Department's plan to administer vaccines on an accelerated timetable to educators and others scheduled to become eligible next week had to be reversed Monday after the vaccine supply ran short.
Decatur Morgan Hospital is also out of first-dose vaccines. Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the only two that have received federal authorization, require two doses.
Alabama Department of Public Health Northern District Administrator Judy Smith said she had planned for the Morgan County Health Department to begin giving some shots to people beyond the currently eligible group, which is limited to those who are 75 or older, health care workers and long-term care residents.
“We’re going to have to back out of easing into it,” Smith said of expanding the pool of people who can receive the vaccine this week. “I hate that. I thought it would be wonderful for this community.”
She said the department got notice from the ADPH late Friday afternoon of a redistribution of vaccines, and that meant “we weren’t going to have as much.”
In a release Monday, the ADPH said that the current assessment of vaccine supply and expectations for shipments indicate many public health clinics will have to focus heavily on providing second doses for the month of February.
The change in the distribution plan had an immediate impact on Decatur City Schools, which had already begun scheduling vaccine appointments for some of its staff this week at the Morgan County Health Department.
In a letter to staff Monday, Decatur City Schools Deputy Superintendent of Operations Dwight Satterfield said that in a meeting with Smith and her staff on Friday afternoon, the district was asked to begin easing into vaccinating DCS personnel “at a rate of about 100 per day” for the first dose distribution.
“At this point, I do not know when ADPH will be able to provide us a time frame for vaccinations,” Satterfield said. He said in the letter that he’s still in discussions with local pharmacies about securing a percentage of their first-round distributions for educators.
“Having to share this information is disheartening, but I can assure you that Ms. Smith and her staff at ADPH and our team at central office are doing all we can to secure as many vaccinations from whatever source is made available to us,” he wrote.
For those scheduled for their second dose of the vaccine, “we will continue as scheduled,” he said. “We have a proven vaccination system ready to utilize as soon as we are afforded the opportunity.”
Satterfield did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Gov. Kay Ivey and the ADPH announced Friday that starting next Monday the eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations would be extended to include people 65 or older, and additional groups of front-line workers: educators, first responders, corrections officers, food and agriculture workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, child care workers and members of the judicial system.
People who are 75 years and older and first responders are still the priority for vaccines, according to Smith, but the plan that had to be scrapped was to split the vaccines “in a fair distribution” of one-third each among three other groups — those in the education sector like teachers and support staff; people 65 or older; and others eligible in this next wave of vaccinations.
“Eligibility does not equate to availability,” Smith said at a news conference. “We do intend to beg for more vaccines.”
She said some vaccines were administered to the expanded group Monday morning. Those attending the clinic for first doses later in the day did not receive vaccines.
“This has been an extremely, extremely challenging time,” she said. “We need more vaccine.” Smith noted that requests for the vaccines for those people 75 years and older had “gone down a little bit” since they’ve been available, prompting her plan to distribute the vaccine more widely.
Decatur Morgan Hospital’s Chief Nursing Officer Anita Walden reported there were 46 confirmed or presumed COVID-19 inpatients at the hospital Monday. All 10 patients in the intensive care unit were on ventilators, she said.
The hospital had expected to receive a shipment of Pfizer vaccines Monday, which would have allowed it to reopen its vaccine clinic for first doses.
“We do not have a shipment of vaccines yet,” and had received no confirmation that it was on the way to the hospital, she said. “We do have second doses in reserve.”
Walden noted that there had been two deaths at the hospital over the weekend.
To date, 175 Morgan County residents have been reported as dying of COVID-19.
The ADPH announced on Monday it has launched an online portal for people to check their eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations and make appointments for them at county health departments. Sites listed in the portal have a limited supply of vaccine available, according to the department.
The portal, which also provides up-to-date information about additional drive-through and walk-in clinics being offered, can be accessed at www.alcovidvaccine.gov.
The portal provides information such as what people should bring to vaccine appointments, mask requirements and a vaccine fact sheet.
The ADPH said that demand for vaccine continues to greatly exceed supply as Alabama has more than 326,000 health care workers and nearly 350,000 people who now qualify for a vaccine because they are 75 years of age or older. The addition next week of people 65 or older and essential front-line workers will add more than 1 million more people that are eligible to receive a vaccine.
As of Friday, the state had administered 359,589 of the 772,275 doses that had been delivered, according to ADPH. Many of the doses that have not been administered are being held for scheduled first or second doses, according to the department.
The limitation of appointments is directly related to the amount of vaccine provided by the federal government, the ADPH said. If the supply of vaccines from the federal government increases, the department expects that access to appointments for priority groups will increase as well.
Individuals are encouraged to visit drive-thru and walk-in clinics or other vaccine providers if appointments are not currently available at a county health department location.