Local health care facilities are preparing to administer COVID-19 vaccines to people 75 and older next week, as virus cases and deaths continue to climb in Morgan County.
People 75 and older and first responders will be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by appointment beginning on Monday, the Alabama Department of Public Health said. ADPH administrator for the Northern District Judy Smith said the call center for vaccination appointments received 1.1 million calls in one day on Friday after announcing the next stage of vaccinations.
“If you want a vaccine, we are going to get you a vaccine,” Smith said. “I want to emphasize to everybody, if you do not get it on Monday the 18th, you may not get it that day, you may not get it on Tuesday, but I promise you we are going to stay on this until we get everybody who wants a vaccine, a vaccine.”
Those who are eligible based on age can schedule an appointment for a free COVID-19 vaccination at a county health department by calling 1-855-566-5333.
Smith said Morgan County has about 8,900 residents aged 75 or older.
She said the Morgan County Health Department will have police officers controlling traffic to ensure safety during vaccinations. She said 20 vehicles will be allowed in at a time based on the time of their appointments.
“We don’t want to do like some other counties did. We don’t want to have people waiting in line for three hours and then finding out that we don’t have a vaccine dose,” Smith said. “You’ve hung on this long, please just be patient with us and let’s hang on a little bit longer.”
Smith said the health department is using all of its available nurses to administer vaccines.
“We’re not going to be able to squeeze in 700 people on Monday, but I will tell you that we have pulled in every nurse that we possibly can from our system for the next two weeks,” Smith said.
Decatur Morgan Hospital president Kelli Powers said those who want to receive a vaccine at Decatur Morgan Hospital can fill out a form at www.decaturmorganhospital.net to be placed on a waiting list.
“We will call in to schedule an appointment for you to come to the vaccine clinic,” Powers said.
The hospital received 600 appointment requests from people in Morgan County over the weekend, Powers said.
As of Saturday, according to the ADPH, fewer than a third of the 271,925 vaccine doses allotted to the state had been administered.
Smith said vaccine recipients who receive their first dose at the health department will receive a card with a reminder to return for their second vaccine dose in exactly four weeks, at the same time. They will not need to schedule an appointment.
“We’re not going to chase you down, we’re not going to harass you, we’re not going to do anything,” she said. “Your appointment time four weeks from now will be the same time, same place, just four weeks later.”
Smith said since both Decatur Morgan Hospital and the Morgan County Health Department are administering the Moderna vaccine, people can get one dose at one location and their second dose at the other.
“If you get your first dose from us, as long as it’s (a) Moderna vaccine and you’ve got your date correct, you can get your second dose with somebody else who has the Moderna vaccine,” she said.
In addition to the health department and hospital, Payless Pharmacy in Decatur will also have doses of the vaccine available. Smith said she’s hoping for other pharmacies and health care facilities to receive the vaccine soon.
Smith said the health department, which will administer vaccines Monday through Friday, hopes to vaccinate at least 100 to 150 people daily for 750 people or more per week.
“If we can pull in additional vaccine, if we can pull in additional teams, we’ll do more than that,” Smith said.
Smith said anyone who has had COVID-19 should delay receiving the vaccine for at least 60 and ideally 90 days because someone who has just had the virus will have some immunity to it.
Powers said the hospital should be able to administer between 150 and 200 doses per day, but the exact number will depend on staffing and whether the vaccine clinics are scheduled to run all day or for a shorter period of time.
“We’re trying to figure out how many clinics we can have to get these people vaccinated as soon as possible,” Powers said.
Powers asked that those wanting to be vaccinated only make an appointment at one health care facility. She said double-booking could prevent others from receiving their vaccine dose.
On whether a sufficient number of people who have had the option of getting vaccinated have done so, Powers said, “Not yet. I think we’re getting there.”
Smith said she wants to see 70% of the population get vaccinated, but staffing will limit how fast doses can be given.
“I’ll never be happy until the 70% is done, and I will just say, we don’t want anybody to die; we also don’t want to kill off our nurses,” she said. “A lot of people have left the profession.”
Smith said people need to continue taking precautions after they receive their vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it takes a few weeks until immunity is built up after vaccination.
“That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick,” according to the CDC website.
Powers said the hospital is in need of blood donations from individuals who have had COVID-19. The donations are used for monoclonal antibody infusions, which are given to high-risk individuals with COVID-19 to help prevent patients from developing complications and requiring hospitalization. Smith said some blood donation facilities are not accepting donations from people who have recently had the COVID-19 vaccine.
Smith said 25 people in the county have died from COVID-19 since Dec. 31. A total of 104 Morgan County residents have died from the virus since the pandemic began.
“So in 11 days of this month, we’ve already lost 25 of our citizens. Again, that speaks to how tragic this situation is and how imperative that it is that we continue to do the things that we need to do,” Smith said.
Decatur Morgan Hospital had a total of 91 confirmed or presumed inpatients with COVID-19 as of Monday morning, up from Wednesday, when the hospital had 84 confirmed or presumed inpatients with COVID-19.
In the past two weeks, 1,549 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Morgan County. Since the pandemic started, 11,781 cases have been diagnosed.
Powers said the hospital’s intensive care unit is full. In addition to those in intensive care for other reasons, there are 12 COVID-19 patients in intensive care and nine are on ventilators.
Morgan County’s percent positivity rate has decreased significantly in the past week from close to 60% over a two-week period to about 27% over two weeks as of Monday. However, Smith said she expects hospitalizations to rise late this week and next week.
Powers said staffing is still an issue at Decatur Morgan, and the hospital is looking to hire nurses. She said there are between 60 and 65 open positions for registered nurses, some of which are part time.
“We still have a lot of employees out, 33 positive, 46 are self-quarantined. We do need some nurses,” Powers said. “We have had some staff that have left to go to other jobs.”