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COVID-19 vaccination eligibility expanded; COVID cases continue decline

Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced Friday starting Feb. 8, ADPH will extend eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations to include people 65 or older, and additional groups of frontline workers.

Frontline critical workers listed in the plan are as follows:

  • First responders
  • Corrections officers
  • Food and agriculture workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Grocery store workers
  • Public transit workers
  • People who work in the education sector (teachers, support staff, community college and higher education)
  • Childcare workers
  • Judiciary (including but not limited to) circuit judges, district judges and district attorneys

The additional priority groups will add over 1 million people that are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Alabama. While just under 2 million people will qualify to receive the vaccine, the state continues to only receive around 100,000 doses each week.

As of Friday, 148,549 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 175,326 doses of the Moderna vaccine have been given out to first responders, residents and staff of Alabama’s nursing homes and individuals 75 and older. A total of 772,275 vaccines have been delivered to Alabama, meaning that 42 percent of what has already been delivered to the state have been administered.

“We have all been frustrated that the supply of vaccine coming from the federal government hasn’t kept up with the demand,” Governor Ivey said. “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.”

Covered in this expanded group are people at high risk for work-related exposure and persons in identified age groups at risk for COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality. These include people working or living in congregate settings including but not limited to homeless shelters and group homes.

“Alabama is expanding its guidance despite the limited vaccine in order to accelerate the vaccine uptake in our state,” Dr. Scott Harris said. “I want to reiterate that any remaining vaccines that have not been administered are either someone’s first dose and they are waiting on their appointment or they are waiting on their second dose. Any vaccine currently in the state has someone’s name on it.”

To schedule an appointment for the free COVID-19 vaccination at a county health department, individuals may call the ADPH COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling Hotline at 1-855-566-5333. For general information about COVID-19, the COVID-19 Information Hotline number is 1-800-270-7268. The vaccine providers can be found within the Alabama COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Dashboard at arcg.is/OrCey.

Huntsville Hospital said this week they have been able to vaccinate over 14,500 for COVID, but the demand continues to exceed what the state can realistically handle right now.

The expansion comes as positive cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations continue to decrease significantly over the past couple of weeks. Madison County reported 2,872 new cases over the past 14-day period. On Jan. 14, the 14-day total was 4,616.

There were 35 patients at Madison Hospital with COVID on Thursday. Six of those were in ICU with five in ventilators. A month ago, the hospital was reporting a daily average of 55 COVID patients.

Huntsville Hospital reported 132 patients with COVID, with 21 on ventilators.

David Spillers is CEO of Huntsville Hospital System, which includes Madison Hospital. He said the downward trend in new cases and hospitalizations is good news, but said the main concern he and other health officials have is that a coronavirus variant will become rampant in Alabama.

“That variant seems to be much more infectious than the current one,” Spillers said. “Although it’s not any more severe, it seems to spread much more easily. If that creates a spike in the number of people in the community with COVID, then you’ll have a spike to follow in hospitalizations.”

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the variant has been detected in Alabama so far, identified in three state residents. Two are from Montgomery County and one is from Jefferson County; two are children under 19 and one is an adult.

These are the first reported cases in Alabama of the variant which was first detected in the United Kingdom in late 2020. It has also been detected in at least 24 other states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina and at least 293 cases in the U.S.

“Viruses mutate, and due to surveillance, it was expected that cases would be found in Alabama,” a press release from the ADPH stated. “At this time, many infectious disease experts and the CDC have indicated that the current vaccine should be effective against the U.K. strain. However, this is still being studied. Currently, the U.K. variant has not definitively been linked to worse outcomes of the disease. As this variant is recent to the United States, it is important to follow the outcome of persons infected with this variant.”

ADPH advises people to continue practicing the usual mitigation standards with emphasis on correct and consistent use of a two- to three-layered face mask of washable, breathable fabric such as cotton. Other prevention methods include practicing social distancing, and washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

 

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