MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A first-come, first-served COVID-19 vaccination even planned for Saturday will give many older residents their first shot at coronavirus protection that so far has been limited to a few select groups.
That’s welcome news in a state that by one measure ranks last in the country. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a little more than 84,000 people had gotten their first shot of the two-dose vaccine. That ranks last in the country on a per capita basis, trailing next-from-last Georgia. First-place West Virginia’s rate is running more than 3 and a half times ahead of Alabama.
It is not just a matter of slow shipments from the drug companies. Nine states have received less of the vaccine on a per capita basis.
But Dr. Bert Eichold, the Mobile County health officer, said the main culprit in southwest Alabama is supply.
“Our rate-limiting step has really been the lack of vaccine in the community from the federal government,” he said. “So, you know, that distribution point has been very weak, but hopefully is going to correct in the next week to 10 days. So we’re excited about getting vaccine to people. … We’ve given out as much vaccine as we had.”
Saturday’s Mobile County Health Department event will take place at the Alabama Cruise Terminal. Up to now, only health care workers and first responders have been eligible; residents and employees of long-term care facilities have been vaccinated under a separate program.
But on Saturday, anyone 75 or older to be able to get the shot. Health officials say people should enter and exit through the parking garage on Eslava Street. Older residents will get the vaccine from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and health care workers, police and firefighters will go from 1:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Officials say folks should bring their identification and something to occupy themselves, because the wait could be long. People can download required paperwork here.
Eichold told FOX10 News that the department last week received about 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine. He said he expects to give out about 1,000 shots on Saturday.
The state continues to vaccinate people in the first-priority groups through hospitals and the state Department of Public Health phone hotline. But by many accounts, the process hand not gone smoothly. Numerous people have complained about jammed phone lines.
Even getting through on the hotline has been no guarantee of smooth sailing. Kim Shumaker, a nurse who lives in Foley, says it took two days before she reached a human.
“They put me on hold numerous times,” she said. “I told her that I was a nurse, and she finally came back and said, you know, I was too young to get the vaccine yet; I wasn't in the appropriate age group.”
Shumaker said she was disconnected and tried for six more hours until she finally reached a state employee who recognized the she qualified as a health care worker. She got her first shot of the vaccine Thursday at the Baldwin County Health Department but does not have an appointment for the follow-up shot she needs 28 days later.
Shumaker said she does not currently work as a nurse but renewed her license in December and would like to volunteer to help give out the vaccine.
State health officials told FOX10 News that they are aware of problems and are working to improve the process. The state and Mobile County health departments said they are looking into setting up an online registration process. The Jefferson County Health Department already has such a system in the Birmingham area.
Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson says the state has even yet vaccinated enough frontline hospital workers to make an impact. He said he hopes to reach that threshold by the end of the month.
Some hospitals have given out all of their supply and that others will have done so by this weekend, Williamson said.
Sill, Williamson said he sees improvement.
“We started with 19 sites to begin. … We’ve now grown out 200 sites,” he said. “Their goal is to go to, grow, in the next week or so over 400 sites.”
For people not yet eligible for the vaccine, health officials are asking for patience. Eichold said people should not delay when their turn does come.
“If we don’t get community transmission under control with COVID-19, it’s going to be a significant issue. So please everyone, get vaccinated. …Wear your mask and socially distance,” he said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not a train. It’s the vaccine, and we’re happy that 2021 will hopefully be the end of COVID-19 in Mobile County, Alabama.”