MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Amid massively overworked phone lines, Mobile County health officials said Monday they are planning a COVID-19 vaccination program for Saturday.
The Mobile County Health Department said it would provide details later in the week. But Rendi Murphree, the department’s top epidemiologist said the first-come, first-served event will not be for everyone – only health care workers, first responders and people 75 and older.
The state set up a hotline last week, and it has been overwhelmed. At last count, more than 1.3 million people had called, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. State officials said they have scheduled thousands of appointments, although that’s a number that is constantly changing.
At her briefing Monday, Murphree urged folks to exercise discretion in calling the hotline.
“Please do not call that number, unless you are a health care provider, a first responder or if you’re 75 and over,” she said. “Also, please do not call your local hospitals, trying to get in to get vaccinated, because they are now overwhelmed with calls and are having difficulty, trying to just receive calls from their patient population. So, I understand how frustrating is.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey offered a similar sentiment on Monday, telling reporters that supply of the vaccine simply has fallen below demand.
“It’s just gonna require patience, y’all,” she said.
The intense interest in the vaccine comes amid the unprecedented surge of the virus locally and throughout the country. Officials at the state and Mobile County health departments both announced new records for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
“We are definitely in unprecedented waters here,” she said.
Murphree says the intensive care units in Mobile are full and hospitals are facing shortages of treatments that have proven effective against the virus.
Sunday, 263 people with COVID-19 were in Mobile hospitals. The county has set a new daily record seven days in a row.
“We are at a critical shortage of adult ICU beds. … We hear that lots of rural hospitals are calling our hospitals trying to get transfers in, and they are unable to take them,” she said.
Even as vaccinations expand to the general population, Mobile hospitals say they still have not finished distributing the vaccine to employees who want it.
Surveys have shown substantial numbers of people – including many health care workers – are leery of the vaccine. But the flooded phone lines stand as testament that demand is strong, nonetheless.
Experts contend that even people who have contracted the novel coronavirus and recovered form the illness should get a vaccine since some people can get the disease more than once – and potentially spread it.
But Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Karen Landers told FOX10 News those people should not get the vaccine right away.
“Recognizing that immunity, natural immunity to this virus, wanes significantly,” the vaccine is appropriate, she said. “But given the supply at the moment, persons who have had COVID should wait about 90 days or so before being vaccinated to allow other persons who have not had the disease, to have the opportunity to be vaccinated.”
Murphree urged patience. She said Operation Warp Speed focused more on development than it did distribution.
“Trillions of dollars were put into federal monies, were put into Warp Speed, to rush towards the development of a vaccine,” she said. “And yes, we expected one to become available sometime in 2021. But there were not a lot of federal funds pushed to the states to try to deliver these vaccines. So we’re working as, you know, as hard as we can to try to find solutions.”