West Virginia leads nation in COVID-19 vaccine rollout, can Alabama ever catch up?

Solving Alabama's slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - We know the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Alabama is slow. State heath leaders say they are working to speed things up.

One state that’s setting the pace for vaccine rollout is West Virginia. Our On Your Side Investigation looks into what’s being done there to get shots quickly in the arms of the most vulnerable.

“At the end of the day, in order to vaccinate more people, we need more vaccine,” Dr. Karen Landers, deputy health officer with ADPH said.

That’s the situation according to the Alabama Department of Public Health when it comes to the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the state. The demand is greater than the supply.

Last week, ADPH disputed the CDCs low ranking for Alabama for vaccine distribution. The CDC has Alabama near the bottom in the country.

“Those numbers are not correct. We have a disconnect when it comes to reporting certain type of shots. Perhaps from the long-term care pharmacy program make up the biggest number of that,” said Dr. Scott Harris, the state’s chief health officer.

Dr. Harris says logging mistakes were being made by some vaccine providers. That issue has since been corrected, according to ADPH. The state says providers are reminded that all doses of COVID-19 shots must be recorded in the system within 24 hours of being put into arms. The state is also increasing the number of providers to speed things up.

One state that isn’t slowing down is West Virginia. It remains in the top 5 for vaccine distribution, according to the CDC. We reached out to Dr. Krista Capehart with West Virginia University who is also the director of professional and regulatory affairs for the state’s board of pharmacy. She and a team led the vaccine effort. They spent the two weeks leading up to distribution finding out where vaccines needed to go.

“We surveyed the long-term care facilities, what their preferred pharmacies were and were able to link them up with pharmacies that have identified that they wanted to participate in the program,” Capehart said.

By the time vaccines were on the ground there, the West Virginia National Guard was mobilized to get doses to many independent pharmacies who had already set up clinics to get shots in arms of healthcare workers and long-term care facilities.

The state created its own vaccine distribution network and didn’t rely solely on help from the federal government.

How long did it take to get the first round out?

“Those doses arrived on a Monday and Tuesday and we were putting doses in arms on Wednesday and Thursday. We had completed the first round of doses at all 214 facilities in partnership with the healthcare association within 15 days,” Capehart said.

The state used the same structure to vaccinate teachers which got them back teaching in the classroom this week. Capehart says the hybrid approach the state is taking to roll out the vaccine in record time works. She realizes it may not work in every state, but she says states need to use every available resource and make maximum use of vaccine providers.

“Only giving doses to certain groups is going to slow down the process. You always have to have a leader, but everybody needs to be included because to get us out of this pandemic is truly going to take an all around team approach,” Capehart added.

West Virginia has a smaller population than Alabama, but Capehart says every dose of the vaccine they receive is going into arms shortly thereafter.

Before the inauguration, Trump administration officials said state’s allocations of the vaccine will be based on how well they’ve administered the doses they’ve already received. We’ll see if the new Biden administration sticks to that.

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