HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Like most of the country, Alabama is dealing with the community spread of the COVID-19 virus. It is not a situation led by hotspots causing spikes, but rather the virus is circulating through the general population.
The Pfizer vaccine is very close to FDA approval. The Moderna vaccine is also expected to win emergency FDA approval in the next two weeks.
Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association says hospitals will be ready to begin vaccinations, but we’re starting with a pretty small supply.
“You know our hope is to have about 41,000 doses if I remember correctly,” he said, “And that’s a start! But it’s probably 10-15 percent of what we need to cover health care workers.”
There is also hope that the vaccine can quickly make a lifesaving difference for some elderly state residents.
“If we vaccinate nursing home residents, we can, because they’re going to be in tier 1A,” Williamson said. “So those who get vaccinated in December and get followed up in January, we can dramatically reduce mortality and morbidity in the nursing home population more quickly maybe than anyplace else.”
Huntsville Hospital reported last week it is scheduled to receive 6,825 of the original shipment to Alabama.
Health care workers are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 exposure will be prioritized in terms of vaccine distribution.
“The challenge is there probably is not going to be enough vaccine to meet any of that need in a substantial way,” Williamson said. “Some will go to staff in the hospitals, some will go to the EMS community, first-responders, some will go to physicians in the community who are exposed to covid.”
Health officials hope that’s just the start of the vaccine rollout.
“The expectation is there will be more vaccine each week thereafter,” Williamson said. “The Pfizer vaccine is uniquely challenging because of the minus-80 degree cold storage requirement.”
Vaccine delivery and distribution is also expected to get simpler over time.
“I think the Moderna vaccine because — A — It can be ordered in smaller lots and — B — Because it doesn’t have the same storage requirements is going to be a game-changer,” Williamson said because it will allow rural hospitals that don’t have minus-80 degree storage capacity to get that.”