Vaccine eligibility in Alabama expanded to those age 65 and older, front line workers, even as low supply of doses limits availability
MONTGOMERY — State officials announced an expansion of who in Alabama is eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Friday. Beginning February 8, all citizens over 65, along with several categories of front line workers, will be allowed to get vaccinated.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris made the announcement at the Alabama Department of Health’s offices in Montgomery. Governor Kay Ivey issued a statement in support of the policy change.
With the newly added categories of individuals, Alabama will soon have around 1.5 million citizens eligible for vaccination.
Harris admitted that the additional categories being made eligible might cause some amount of confusion, as demand for the shots already exceeded supply, and doses are expected to be scarce for the foreseeable future.
“We are probably sending mixed signals in a way. We are telling everyone in these groups that they are now eligible. At the same time, we want to communicate just as strongly that there is not enough vaccine to go around,” Harris remarked.
The complete list of groups eligible to receive the vaccine beginning on February 8, per ADPH:
People 65 or older
Food and agriculture workers
U.S. Postal Service workers
Grocery store workers
Public transit workers
People who work in the education sector (teachers, support staff, community college and higher education)
Judiciary (including but not limited to) circuit judges, district judges and district attorneys
Health care workers, residents of assisted living facilities and any other group that was already permitted to get the vaccines remain eligible to do so.
State legislators, constitutional officers and members of the governor’s cabinet were also designated to become eligible on February 8 “to ensure continuity of state government operations,” in Harris’ words. The total number of individuals in that category was estimated to be around 200.
Harris urged young, healthy individuals who are being made eligible to get the vaccine not to try and jump to the front of the line. “Please give your spot in line to someone more deserving,” he said, referring to young people newly made eligible by their profession.
According to Harris, Alabama’s county health departments are booked solid through the end of March. He encouraged interested newly eligible citizens to call the state’s coronavirus vaccine scheduling hotline — (855) 566-5333 — to be put on a waiting list.
Shortly after Harris’ announcement on Friday, the line was overwhelmed. A recorded message referred callers to a webpage where they can submit their info to be notified when new vaccine supply is available at their county health department.
He also directed citizens to his department’s map of COVID-19 vaccine providers, which lists locations outside of the county health departments served by the hotline. It is likely that few locations on the map will have vaccines in stock.
While many of the listed providers are allowed to set their own appointment schedules, they have to comply with the same list of eligible recipients as government-run health departments.
An online portal that will allow eligible citizens to try and book an appointment online has been delayed. “It has gone a little bit slower than we would like, but we’re trying to make sure it is up and running as soon as possible,” said Harris on Friday.
He added that, like the hotline, the web portal will only be for appointments at county health departments, which are all booked through the end of March.
“We want people to understand that even though we are trying to make scheduling as easy as possible … there is not any extra vaccine. It is still going to be challenging to get an appointment in a timely way,” Harris warned.
He added, “We acknowledge it has been a frustrating process.”
There have been 772,275 doses of a coronavirus vaccine shipped to Alabama. The state has now administered 323,875 shots as of Friday afternoon, good for 42% of the doses delivered.
Each of the vaccines permitted for use by federal regulators requires two shots, administered three to four weeks apart, to become fully effective.
Harris reiterated on Friday that the vast majority of the unused shots are spoken for; they are either the second dose for someone who has gotten their first dose, or they are the initial dose for someone who has scheduled an appointment.
The Alabama Department of Public Health relayed this week that they took back around 4,000 vaccine doses from providers that were going too slow.
Alabama is now receiving about 100,000 new doses per week, per the department.
“We have all been frustrated that the supply of vaccine coming from the federal government hasn’t kept up with the demand,” Governor Kay Ivey stated in a release.
She added, “To be blunt, we simply haven’t gotten the vaccine that we’ve been promised, and this has created a major backlog of aggravation. Today’s announcement will ensure that as more vaccine is released, we will have a plan in place to get the vaccine in people’s arms more quickly.”