Amid criticism from state lawmakers over the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Alabama, the state announced on Wednesday that it would begin “pulling” unused vaccine doses from clinics or pharmacies that don’t. are not distributing quickly enough and sending limited stocks of vaccine elsewhere.
The Alabama Department of Public Health issued a press release Wednesday afternoon to resolve “misunderstandings” over vaccination efforts in the state and to announce that the new policy of “withdrawal” of unused vaccine doses from hospitals, pharmacies or other vendors and send them to places that can use it faster.
“In response to concerns that some vendors are failing to deliver their vaccine lots in a timely manner, ADPH will begin withdrawing vaccine supplies from vendors who do not administer the vaccine on a timely basis,” the department said. “Unused vaccine will be redirected to other suppliers who will administer the vaccine more quickly.
“ADPH is investigating all providers in the state to ensure that all doses administered have been correctly reported to ADPH and to determine if there is a vaccine available that should be redistributed elsewhere.”
Alabama has consistently finished at or near the bottom of vaccine distribution statistics kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, still ranking last among states for the percentage of the population vaccinated as of January 20. The ADPH data dashboard shows more doses given than the federal dashboard, and the ADPH has said it is in constant communication with the CDC to ensure all doses administered in Alabama are counted.
But the state is under pressure to distribute the vaccine more quickly. In the final days of the Trump administration, the CDC announced a policy to reward states that distribute the vaccine quickly with larger allocations going forward.
On Tuesday, four Alabama lawmakers distributed a letter to the media saying the slow deployment of ADHD and record-keeping issues could prevent the state from obtaining additional doses in the future. ADPH responded that the government is currently allocating vaccine doses based on population.
The CDC policy announced last week under the Trump administration has yet to take effect, and it is not known whether it will ever take effect under the Biden administration.
In Wednesday’s press release, ADHD said it has reoriented its employees from their regular duties to help county health departments administer the vaccine.
“Every person who gets a COVID-19 vaccine deserves one and will receive it, because we are committed to making sure that no vaccine is left unused on the shelf,” said Dr Scott Harris, Health Officer of the state of Alabama. “We are doing everything we can to get the shots in the arms as quickly as possible.”
ADPH says the state has so far received 446,150 doses of the federal government vaccine and has administered 184,618. Alabama has received a total of 640,150 doses, but not all have been delivered. ADPH says no vaccine doses have been rejected in Alabama so far, and ADPH now offers a map of vendors that offer the vaccine on its website.
The state has more than 346,000 people in phase 1a of its vaccine allocation plan and 348,000 other residents aged 75 or older who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine.
The state has yet to launch a promised online registry for people to sign up for a vaccine. A statewide hotline for immunization appointments exists, but has been inundated with calls and is often difficult to obtain. Still, Harris says supply is the state’s biggest limiting factor.
“The biggest barrier to getting vaccinated remains the limited vaccine supply,” Harris said. “We are trying to manage expectations because the schedule for receiving vaccines has not changed and we cannot give people a resource that we do not yet have.”
Dr Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, told AL.com on Wednesday that while it is clear that there are issues with data communication with the federal database, the biggest problem is the lack of supply.
“We have a number of hospitals where the problem isn’t that they have the vaccine and can’t give it,” Williamson said. “It’s because they no longer have a vaccine.”
* Sarah Whites-Koditschek, AL.com reporter, contributed to this report.