Alabama’s state health officer concerned about vaccination sites, supplies, and variant viruses

Winter weather impact on vaccines

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - The winter storm is still keeping some people from getting their COVID-19 shots. County health departments in the northwestern part of the state were closed again Thursday because of dangerous roads.

County health departments and other providers shut down Monday and Tuesday. Some reopened Thursday, but the threat of hazardous roads are keeping others out of action.

The Alabama Department of Public Health hopes to see those who were scheduled earlier return to those sites that are open Saturday. Dr. Scott Harris said they can work extended hours trying to catch up on those shots.

In Birmingham, UAB was able to resume drive-thru and walk up vaccinations at Parker High School and the Hoover Met resumed drive-thru shots.

Dr. Harris said there have been problems with vaccine supplies getting to the state and that could be a problem next week. Harris says the shutdown of vaccination sites was unavoidable.

“We have to take care of our staff to be sure they don’t be put in a dangerous situation by going to work. At the same time, the public doesn’t need to be out some of these areas and we don’t want them to do that,” Harris said.

Harris says they are scrambling now to reschedule people by email or phone. If weather improves, Alabama is set to start getting an increased supply of vaccines - up about 90,000 doses next week.

MORE VACCINE DISTRIBUTION DATA IN ALABAMA

You can now go the Alabama Department of Public Health’s website and see just who is getting those COVID-19 shots. The state now has over a million doses of vaccine and two thirds have been given.

The following is a breakdown of the 59,167 vaccines administered by UAB:

• 41,075 have received first dose

• 18,092 have received first and second doses

• Females: 64.01 percent

• Males: 35.99 percent

• Whites: 66.81 percent

• Black or African American: 20.72 percent

• Asian: 7.09 percent

• Hispanic or Latino: 2.97 percent

• Other/Unknown: 2.38

All numbers are through Tuesday, Feb. 16.

While State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris is glad to see those number of shots going up, he admits more has to be done to reach some groups.

Dr. Harris said even though Alabama is ahead of the national average for African-Americans, he wants to see that number increase. The health department is reaching out to minority leaders and creating ad campaigns in the media and social media trying to beef up those numbers and to get over any sort of vaccine hesitancy.

“We are doing everything we can. Some of our African-American communities have challenges to medical care in a lot of cases. We know there is some vaccine hesitancy in some circles we are working to address. We want to make sure this vaccine is distributed equitably to everyone,” said Harris.

As for the big difference between men and women, Harris says historically, women take better care of themselves. Also, some of the first people vaccinated were healthcare workers and most tend to be women.

WILL YOU NEED A THIRD COVID SHOT?

Vaccination sites are resuming work after winter storms shut many down this week. People are getting their first and some their second shots. But this week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates said there may be a need for third shots. Gates was talking about the need for a third booster shot because of the spread of variant viruses around the world. Gates is funding some studies looking into that question.

In Alabama, the state department of public health reports there are eight known cases of variant virus - mostly the UK variant. There is concern it is popping up in some of the state’s largest counties such as Jefferson County. The big problem - the current vaccine products are not as effective against the South African and Brazilian viruses which are also spreading around the world.

Dr. Scott Harris said these variant viruses can be more contagious. Harris says Pfizer and Moderna are looking into a third shot against the mutated strain.

“At the moment, the variant we have in this state - the UK variant - seems to be covered with the vaccine products we have. I think we need more science to see to answer those questions if we need additional vaccine products or doses or whatever,” Harris said.

Gates has reportedly said additional shots may be necessary against these variant viruses. Possibly not yearly, but as long at the coronavirus is out there, the goal is get as many Americans as possible to not be spreading it.

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