WINSTON COUNTY - COVID-19 vaccinations have extended past the initial phase 1A frontline healthcare workers and first responders to now include those 75 and older, as well as educators in both Haleyville City and Winston County schools.
However, the basic principles of economics are at work: the supply of the vaccine has not met the high level of demand. Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville announced late last week that they had run out of the Moderna vaccine that has been administered.
Ashley Pool, CEO of Lakeland, assured that the hospital has received the vaccine required for the second round of shots required for those already vaccinated in the first round, and appointments would be made soon.
The hospital will continue to vaccinate those 75 and older once they receive their first round of 1B vaccinations, Pool pointed out.
“Our vaccine clinic is stocked and ready to go as soon as we receive more vaccine,” Pool pointed out.
Lakeland received 1,000 doses of the vaccine in the first round, with 20 doses remaining for employees not able to take it earlier, Pool stated.
“We have over 500 requests for appointments,” she said.
When the hospital was opened for walk-ins, they gave over 150 vaccines each day to those ages 75 and older, according to Pool.
“I’m very encouraged by that and expect the numbers to continue to grow,” she said.
As of press time, Lakeland had not received an update on when additional vaccine will be received for those requesting appointments, said Pool. When asked the cause of the vaccine shortage, Pool replied that it was very confusing trying to understand why that was the case.
“We get conflicting reasons from the media and see the reality in our state,” she said. “I don’t know why there is a shortage, but what I do know is that Lakeland Community Hospital will continue to advocate and fight for more vaccines.
“The people of Winston County and surrounding areas deserve access to the vaccine,” Pool continued.
“Rural areas must not be forgotten,” she stated. “I encourage everyone to remain vigilant to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene, socially distancing, complying with isolation and quarantine guidance when sick and taking the vaccine when it is available.”
Currently, the Alabama Department of Public Health is working to obtain more vaccine from the federal government.
“Until that happens,” Pool said, “please be patient. I have to remind myself to be patient, too. I want to get the vaccine out to everyone as soon as possible.”
Concerning those most in need of the vaccine, Pool noted that those ages 65 and older have worse outcomes, and as the age category of 75 and older that are receiving the vaccine are even more in need of the vaccine.
“Our children need to be back in school,” Pool said in response to Lakeland administering the vaccine this past week to educators.
Pool stressed that a very small percentage of the vaccine was administered to those in education.
“Our primary goal was to reach those 75 and older, and a very, very small amount of the vaccination was given to educators,” Pool said.
Medical officials were given the go-ahead by the ADPH to move into additional phases based on their individual community needs, according to Pool.
“That is what we did in Winston County. We see all of the needs,” she said.
“In order to (have children back in school), teachers must be vaccinated,” Pool stressed. “I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t need the vaccine.”
The new COVID-19 variant is being reported by the CDC as 50 percent more contagious as its predecessor, medical officials said.
“Because of this pandemic, healthcare resources are already limited, with most hospitals at or near maximum capacity for acute and critically ill patients,” said Pool. “I am very concerned about the effect more people infected with COVID-19 will have on an already strained healthcare system.”
Those in phase 1A are first responders, frontline health workers, including clinical and non-clinical, in hospitals, nursing homes or those directly providing in-home or mental health; workers in heath care services such as those providing transportation and environmental services, as well as those in mortuary services.
Workers, who qualify for phase 1 vaccinations who have been listed in the high risk category include front line health workers, health care workers, the staff of nursing homes and long-term care facilities and pathologists performing autopsies on persons known or suspected to have had COVID-19 at the time of death.
Listed under the medium risk category are first responders, including firefighters and law enforcement, as well as persons working in critical healthcare services who have direct contact with the general public, such as pharmacists; non-hospital based physicians, nurse practitioners, private offices, federally qualified health centers, county health departments, mental health and treatment centers. Other healthcare workers that qualify include laboratories, morticians and dentists according to the COVID-19 Vaccination Allocation Plan.
Teachers were initially grouped into category 1B of the first round of vaccinations, including essential workers at highest risk for work related exposure, as well as persons in identified age groups at risk for COVID-19 associated with morbidity and mortality.
Vaccinations for educators were given Jan. 12, and Jan. 14, at Lakeland Community Hospital.
Health department not administering vaccine to teachers
The Winston County Health Department continues to administer the vaccine to frontline healthcare workers and emergency first responders, but has yet to receive state guidance on administering it to teachers, noted Michael Glenn, assistant administrator for the northern district of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
“The health department is still focused on allocation of Phase 1A,” Glenn stated. Those 75 and older are included in phase 1B, which is described as “persons in identified age groups at risk for COVID-19 associated with morbidity and mortality,” according to the Alabama COVID-19 Vaccination Allocation Plan.
“Teachers would fall under the other 1B category, but we have not been given instructions to start doing that yet,” said Glenn. “We are supposed to be focusing on 75 and older and category 1A.”
Teachers or educators are falling under 1B which reads, “essential workers at highest risk for work related exposure,” according to the plan.
Phase 1B can also include postal workers, grocery store employees, manufacturing plant workers or essential any employee that is contact with the public on a regular basis, Pool explained.
The county health department has already given out their first 300-dose vaccine allotment, with a second 300-dose allotment already in house and ready to be administered, Glenn said.
“We could open the vaccines up to everybody, but we don’t have enough to get everybody vaccinated,” said Glenn. “That’s why we’re doing it in phases to try to get front line healthcare workers first, then first responders, then those 75 and older.
“We’re thankful there is a demand for it,” Glenn added, “but there is a limited supply. We’re going to get everybody vaccinated who wants to get vaccinated as the vaccine gets into the county and the state more readily.”
As of this week, the Winston County Health Department has expanded vaccinations from two to five days a week while supplies last, according to Glenn.
There are still problems being reported with the toll-free vaccination hotline, 1-855-566-5333, the state is utilizing. Staff continues to work expanding the vaccine schedule capacity, since 1.1 million calls came into the hotline on its first day of operation. Hotline personnel have been working to schedule healthcare workers for appointments, those in the 75 and older age group, law enforcement and firefighters.
“At present time, there are no more appointments available at county health departments,” according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The call center will take caller information and add it to the waiting list, with callers to be contacted as soon as an appointment becomes available.
The demand for the COVID-19 vaccine exceeds supply, with more than 326,000 health care workers and nearly 350,000 people in Alabama who qualify for the vaccine who are 75 and older, according to state health statistics.
Vaccine hotline calls are answered from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week.
The CDC has noted that Alabama is ranked last, with the lowest COVID vaccine rate in the nation, having given the vaccine to less than two percent of its population.
According to the COVID-19 dashboard, Alabama has administered at least the first dose of the vaccine to 92,300 people at about 1.9 percent of its population, state reports indicated. However, the ADPH is refuting this data.
“The Alabama Department of Public Health data does not concur with CDC’s data at the moment,” noted Dr. Karen Landers with ADPH. “ADPH is looking into this to ensure that all doses Alabama has administered are counted.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.