Officials not sure when elderly, general public will get shots
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Administration of COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare and related employees has begun locally, but the process is a slow-moving one, and local healthcare officials aren’t sure when the vaccine will become readily available to the elderly and the general public.
According to data furnished by Escambia County Healthcare Authority (ECHCA), 324 people had received the vaccine at Atmore Community Hospital through January 18 (143 of those since January 14). D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital in Brewton had administered 408 vaccinations through January 14.
Jason Daniel, director of public affairs and marketing for ECHCA, said in an emailed response to questions about the local vaccination process that officials aren’t sure how many individuals included in the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) first phase have yet to be vaccinated.
“We do not know the answer to that question,” Daniel said. “We do not have a breakdown of how many people in our county meet the Phase 1 criteria.”
ADPH’s Phase 1a gives priority to “front-line health workers,” a list that includes clinical and non-clinical hospital or nursing home workers, home health workers, and even drivers of medical supply delivery vehicles.
And, while Gov. Kay Ivey and ADPH have encouraged hospitals, health departments and other vaccine providers to proceed with vaccinations for persons age 75 or older, which is a component of Phase 1b, very few such inoculations have been administered here.
Several counties, including Escambia, have begun administering the vaccine to elderly citizens. But Daniel pointed out that ECHCA and its two hospitals can only administer the vaccine that has been delivered.
“The distribution schedule is set by APDH,” he said. “We are scheduling vaccination appointments for the allotment of doses we have received. We are giving all the doses out. You’ll have to ask ADPH or (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) when we’ll get more.”
The ECHCA spokesman said several factors have played into the vaccinating of Phase 1a individuals and the delay in moving to the next tier of vaccinations.
“I don’t know the statistics on how many have not received it, versus the allocation ADPH gives us,” he said. “I also don’t know how many are refusing to get the shot. The vaccine is open for the selected phase outlined by ADPH.”
He said appointments are made for individuals who want the vaccine. When the local supply is depleted, these people are put on a list for the next batch.
“We accept appointments until we run out, and then start a waiting list for the next shipment,” Daniel said.
Eligible persons can email to COVID19ach@echca.org for appointment availability at ACH. Anyone doing so should include his or her name, age and phone number. Vaccines are only available for persons 75 years of age or older and healthcare workers. To make an appointment at DWM, email to Covid19dwm@echca.org.
ADPH reported this week that 326,000 healthcare providers, nursing home residents, law enforcement officers and firefighters, as well as 350,000 persons age 75 or older, are currently eligible for the first dosage of the vaccine, which requires a second shot roughly a month after the first.
Only between 50,000 and 60,000 doses are being shipped to Alabama each week. Through January 24, more than a quarter-million (255,291) people had received at least the first shot, most of them Alabama residents but also several from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee who crossed state borders to get the vaccine.
Gov. Ivey urged citizens to be as tolerant as possible while the logistics of statewide vaccination are being worked out.
“It is critical for everyone to remain patient; demand is high, and supply is low,” she said in a press release, adding that health officials, “are diligently working to expand access to our seniors, law enforcement officers and various members of our first responders.”