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Frustration, confusion mark early vaccine rollout

January 16, 2021 GMT

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Pam Stockley Causey of Duncanville has been scared to leave her house except for trips to the oncologist and grocery store. Battling neuroendocrine cancer and immunocompromised, she is anxious to get the vaccine but has no idea when it will be available to her.

“I have been living in fear in my house,” said the 55-year-old Causey said. “This whole COVID thing has caused a lot of anxiety. I’m scared to get it because I’m scared I won’t survive it.”

Stare Health Officer Scott Harris said limited supply has been the major problem in the rollout. As of Friday, the state of nearly 5 million people has had 370,575 doses delivered of the 640,150 doses allocated to the state, according to state numbers. And 130,000 shots have been administered. Currently, there are more than 700,000 people eligible for vaccinations in Alabama, including 325,000 health care workers and 350,000 people who are 75 or older.

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The Alabama Department of Public Health disputed data recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that ranked Alabama at the bottom in vaccine administration. The department said some entities did not report complete information, which meant that some doses administered were not included in CDC numbers. Harris said the federal data did not include about 40,000 shots given in Alabama.

“I am thankful so many Alabamians are willing and ready to get their COVID-19 vaccines. Please continue to be patient as we are in the very early stages of distribution,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said Friday. “Our current supply remains limited, but we are committed to vaccinating as many Alabamians as possible.”

The first doses were designated to health care workers and nursing home residents. A state hotline to make appointments for vaccinations for people over 75 and first responders was overwhelmed with calls, receiving more than 1 million the first day.

“I have asked our county health department to do vaccines all day every day until they are gone each week,” Harris said.

He said the state has been receiving about 45,000 doses each week but part of that is allotted for the federal nursing home vaccination program. He said there is no indication when that might increase.

Harris said the other reasons for the slow rollout is that there are limited locations that had freezers that could handle the cold storage requirements for the Pfizer vaccine and that the state’s second allotment went almost entirely to nursing homes. Additionally, some health care workers have, by choice, not taken the vaccine.

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Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said the state doesn’t even have enough vaccine for the target group of those 75 and older.

“Until we get more vaccine there are going to be without question, people who want vaccine and cannot get it,” he said.

But he underscored how massive the undertaking is.

“In fairness to everybody, we have never undertaken this kind of vaccination effort. And second I think the other problem, the doses that we are getting is unpredictable — so it’s hard to plan. Plus the doses that we are getting are inadequate for any of the target population,” Williamson said.

For Causey, part of the anxiety is not knowing when she will be eligible for a shot and even how to find out when she is.

“There is no question there are millions of Alabamians who need the vaccine,” Williamson said.