By Dale Liesch and Gabriel Tynes
After teaming up for months to provide COVID-19 testing, the city of Mobile and USA Health announced today a new partnership to provide vaccine distribution.
Starting Thursday, Jan. 14, USA Health began a drive-in vaccination distribution event for frontline health care workers and first responders against the coronavirus at the city-owned Civic Center arena, moving the entire operation, which started Dec. 15, away from its hospitals.
“This is the result of a nine-month collaboration between USA Health and the city,” Mayor Sandy Stimpson said. “It started with a testing site at Ladd-Peebles Stadium and at that time, the city contributed the facility.”
The drive-in vaccination facility was set up at the other end of the Civic Center complex from the ongoing testing center, which is taking place at the exhibition hall, USA Health Chief Nursing Officer Natalie Fox said. The site is still testing about 200 patients per day, she said.
Fox said USA Health has administered 5,000 shots so far and plans to do about 250 per day all next week; however, all of those appointments are for the Pfizer booster. Right now demand exceeds supply, she said, and it will be some time before the location will begin taking appointments for the general public. Capacity at the facility will grow as the supply of vaccines is increased.
USA Health will be providing electronic signup for vaccine distribution soon, Fox said. The website will put patients in line based on when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health have recommended they get the vaccine. The next group to be vaccinated will be those 75 years or older.
The advantage of a drive-in facility, Fox said, is convenience for patients, especially older ones, who will be able to wait in a vehicle instead of on foot, in a line. A drive-in location also protects patients and staff from disease transmission.
Infirmary Health announced on its website and social media pages its hospitals will begin vaccinating those patients 75 or older on Jan. 18. To help facilitate appointments, Infirmary has set up a vaccine call center at 251-341-2819. Infirmary officials ask that patients do not call the hotline unless they are currently eligible for the vaccine.
Last week, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced the opening of a mass vaccination clinic in Daphne. Beginning Tuesday and for four days only, vaccines will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Daphne Civic Center for all people who are in Phase 1A and some people in Phase 1B of the statewide vaccination plan, including front-line health care workers, first responders and anyone age 75 or older.
The clinics will only be held only on Tuesday, Jan. 19, Thursday, Jan. 21, Tuesday, Jan. 26 and Thursday, Jan. 28. Eligible parties will submit a registration form on-site and must have a valid form of identification. Those seeking a second dose must have records indicating they previously took a first. Proof of residency is not required, meaning the clinic is open to those outside the county.
The parking lot will be opened at 6:30 a.m. and traffic will not be allowed to block the street or public rights of way. The clinic will open at 9 a.m. each day and close at 3 p.m.
Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Zach Hood urged those interested in being vaccinated to follow the guidelines as they are rolled out and suggested the clinic may remain open beyond the first two weeks.
“We will assist the operation in its entirety for the duration of the event,” he said. “We can all expect that vaccinations will carry out through the first part of this year. We know this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and we are asking for community compassion. We want you to remember this will not be the only means of getting vaccination in Baldwin County.”
Hospitals, he said, are also accepting appointments for qualified individuals, adding the county expects to vaccinate at least 700 people per week. Jenny Kilpatrick, coordinator of health care services for the ADPH Southwest District, said the target at mass vaccination clinics is 60 people per hour.
“We’re expecting demand will be high, so we’re working to meet that challenge,” she said.
ADPH’s toll-free number for COVID-19 information is 800-270-7268. A vaccine-scheduling hotline has been established at 855-566-5333.
Alabama has administered less than half of the vaccine doses it has received. According to the ADPH website, the state has had 379,875 doses delivered, but has only administered 148,685 of those. The state has been allotted a total of 640,150 doses.
Of the roughly 149,000 doses, more than half, or about 81,000, are the Pfizer product, while the remaining 69,000 are the Moderna product.
But in a scathing open letter published Tuesday, State. Sen. Greg Albritton and others complained ADPH’s vaccine distribution process has proven problematic and as a result, “our citizens are paying a deadly price.”
“While the supply pipeline is definitely an issue, our pipeline in Alabama has a kink,” the letter read. “The distribution of vaccines to Alabama will continue to be interrupted until Alabama plays by the rules. The rule is simple: The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] will not authorize shipments to Alabama until they know we are using what we have on hand.”
The letter explained the CDC is steering most vaccines to states that are adequately and accurately reporting their inventories daily, but Alabama has fallen short.
ADPH has been unable to report to the CDC how many doses it’s received, how many have been distributed to clinics and how many have been administered.
“In addition, every day, each location should notify ADPH of the number of doses they have remaining on hand,” the letter concluded. “If the Alabama Department of Public Health does not know the answer to these questions, then the CDC certainly doesn’t know, and it makes no sense to send additional doses to Alabama. In a nutshell, ADPH must get every dose that has been administered entered into the registry for the feds to send us more.”
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