State health officer provides update on COVID-19 vaccine efforts

State health officer gives update on vaccine process

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Alabama is getting more COVID-19 vaccines. The state received about 140,000 doses this week. Vaccinations have now exceeded a million shots in Alabama.

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said the quicker they get people vaccinated, the closer they will be to letting people drop their masks.

Governor Ivey’s mandate to wear masks will end April 9. She announced there won’t be any extension. On Friday, Dr. Harris said things could change with the threat of variant viruses, but as of now that’s the deadline.

Pfizer is increasing its vaccine supply. Johnson & Johnson, which has arrived in the state, won’t ship more for three weeks. Walmart and CVS are opening more stores for vaccinations, but they will have limited supplies. Harris says they hope to have 750,000 people vaccinated by April 9, but even though no mandate will exist after that, people should continue to follow their safety steps.

“April 10th should look like April 9th, I hope. People ought to be careful. They should stay home if they can. Wear masks if they go out. Stay out of crowds. So we hope people won’t see the mask mandate as carte blanche to behave any way they want,” Harris said.

On Friday, Harris is also meeting with representatives of the Alabama National Guard. The goal is to get them rolling into areas which so far have been hard to reach with COVID vaccines.

The National Guard has been used in other parts of the country. Harris said they hope to develop a plan where mobile guard units can go to rural areas and provide shots.

Vaccines are being sent to pharmacies and health clinics trying to reach those underserved and what has been designated as Social Vulnerable Index areas. The SVI targets areas because of access to medical care, minority and social economic status.

“The idea is to put them into our SVI areas, to have rotating clinics. Have vaccinations for four days a week. Moving from one location to the next each day,” Harris said.

The goal is to have a thousand shots a day provided. Details are being worked out. Harris said he has been in discussion with FEMA about creating mass vaccinations sites in Alabama like other states. The problem is finding a site big enough to handle the workload.

After weeks of improving COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s risk indicator map was looking great. Low to moderate spread. That changed with the latest map.

We were getting used to seeing just green for low risk of spread or yellow for moderate. Thursday, the map indicator jumped up to show more counties now in the red for very high risk.

Harris said this is an indicator that the threat of COVID is not over. He said six counties are being listed as red for very high risk of transmission.

Etowah County is one of those counties now listed as red. Etowah County EMA Director Deborah Gaither said there was an increase of 186 positive cases. Gaither says that was the result of a data dump with a large number of testing positive being reported all at once. She said overall their numbers are good with cases and hospitalizations. People are also getting vaccinated in the county. She said Governor Ivey’s mandatory facemask order will end April 9th, but that doesn’t mean people stop wearing masks.

“It’s hard. We have been wanting to see our friends and our co-workers for a while, but hold off for just a little while. We would love to be able to say by July let’s have Fourth of July together,” Gaither said.

Gaither said they will be pushing that message even harder as April 9 gets closer. She hoped the next risk indicator map will again show improvements.

National Guard to help distribute vaccines

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