Alabama health officials preparing for COVID-19 vaccine, but major questions remain

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — The State of Alabama Friday submitted its plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how it would handle distribution and administration of a COVID-19 vaccine and is awaiting approval from the federal government of that plan.

News 19 has asked for a copy of the plan — but according to the Alabama Department of Public Health — it won’t be made available until after CDC approval.

At this point is not clear when COVID-19 vaccines will be available or how many initial doses Alabama and other states will receive.

News 19 spoke to Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health Monday on where things stand. She said Alabama has a number of existing health networks, including medical offices, pharmacies and urgent care offices that are already used for vaccination programs like the flu and that network will again be deployed for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Landers said the first group to get the vaccine will be medical personnel and first responders, then priority groups would include vulnerable populations.

“Persons of advanced ages, persons that might live in congregant settings, person who might have certain defined underlying health problems,” Landers said.

Landers said the CDC is providing Alabama with more than 200,000 flu vaccines with the idea that distribution and use of those vaccines will help doctors and offices refine their delivery systems — like drive-thrus — and help them gauge how many patients could be part of the initial priority groups.

Landers also said because of the low rate of infection and the limited number of serious illnesses — and the fact that more vaccine research needs to be done — children are unlikely to be in the first group vaccinated.

ADPH is also focusing on a messaging strategy given public concern about vaccines and the push in an election year to make this available faster than virtually any other vaccine in history. Landers said ADPH plans to stress the safety of vaccine — through the rigorous protocols it must go through to win approval — and, even once released the ongoing monitoring of the vaccine’s safety record.

Landers said researchers are still reviewing COVID-19 infections, but at this point — people who had COVID-19 will not be excluded from getting vaccinated.

“The actual arrival of vaccine we do not know, but the Alabama Department of Public Health will be ready,” she said. “We are working very diligently and when a product is available to the Alabama Department of Public Health and to the State of Alabama, we will be ready to administer that product.”

Landers said the CDC has told states it has the necessary equipment to keep vaccines properly cold as needed and that states won’t need to buy new refrigeration equipment. She also expects multiple vaccines will ultimately be approved — and some will require two doses; some just one.

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