D201217 decatur vaccine

Ryan McMorries, an emergency room doctor, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from nurse Malea Atkins at Decatur Morgan Hospital on Wednesday. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

Alabama will receive almost 20,000 fewer doses of coronavirus vaccine than initially planned, reducing the number of people who can receive an initial dose in coming days, health officials said Friday.

While the state had expected to receive 48,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week, the total allocation has been reduced to 29,250 doses, the Alabama Department of Public Health said in a statement.

Dr. Scott Harris, the state health officer, said claims by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that vaccine allotments were not being reduced were incorrect.

“Clearly there’s not enough product to go around. There’s not as much as they were anticipating, and no one has given us an adequate explanation,” Harris told al.com.

An epidemiologist with the Mobile County Health Department, Dr. Rendi Murphree, called the reduction disappointing.

“But there are going to be ups and downs as things roll on,” she told a virtual news conference.

Almost 4,500 people in Alabama, mostly front-line health care workers, have received initial doses of the two-part vaccine since Tuesday, the state said, and the reduction in doses will not affect them since follow-up doses already have been allotted.

Alabama hospitals could begin receiving a second type of vaccine manufactured by Moderna as early as next week, the state said, and Alabama already has been allotted 83,400 doses.

Decatur Morgan Hospital will be among the sites to receive direct shipments of the Moderna vaccine, according to CEO Kelli Powers. It received its initial allotment of Pfizer vaccines from Huntsville and Athens-Limestone hospitals.

Addressing concerns that people will stop wearing masks or staying away from each other to guard against spreading the virus, Murphree said it was too early to let down defenses.

“You’re going to continue doing (it) that way until 2021,” said Murphree, an epidemiologist.

Nearly 4,300 people in Alabama have died of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and more than 315,000 have tested positive. Health department statistics show 2,447 people were hospitalized with the illness Friday, and the state has set new records for hospitalizations with the illness each day since Tuesday.

Decatur Morgan Hospital had 84 confirmed and four presumed COVID-19 patients Friday. Athens-Limestone Hospital had 27 COVID-19 patients.

At the current rate of infection, the cumulative number of cases confirmed in the state will double in about 64 days, according to bamatracker.com, an independent website which compiles statistics released by health officials. That's less than half the time than was required in early September before the pandemic worsened nationwide. The cumulative number in Morgan County will double in 54 days at the current rate, less than a fourth of the time in September.

COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but it can be deadly for patients with other health problems and the elderly.

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