Officials urge patience as Alabama deals with surge of vaccine requests

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. — If you’re upset because you’ve tried calling the state’s vaccination hotline to set up an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine, you’re not the only one.

“Our hotline has not worked very well,” Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health said Wednesday at Madison County’s weekly briefing on the coronavirus.

Landers said she and others at the health department have heard the anger and frustration about the process, which has been plagued with busy signals and people being unable to get through to make an appointment to get the vaccine at their local health department. And she said she was frustrated as well, but steps were being taken to handle the high demand.

According to Landers, the health department has asked that the line’s capacity was 100 lines when it was opened, and 165 people were trained to answer calls. Landers said they’ve asked for that to be doubled. The hotline is a contracted service not run by health department employees, she said. She added that the state is working on an online registration platform as well.

“We recognize there are parts of our plan that need to be changed,” Landers said. “There are parts of our plan that need to be fixed, and we are working on that in order to be able to provide a better service to not only the citizens of Alabama, but also the citizens of this county and the cities within this county.”

Landers said as of Monday morning, 87,000 people had been vaccinated. The state has 271,000 doses allocated, which also includes people’s required second doses. That’s not enough to vaccinate all the people who are eligible and ready for it now, she said.

“Keep in mind, at this moment vaccine supply remains limited,” Landers said. “So we certainly have more people wanting appointments than we have vaccine available.”

Landers said as they wait for more vaccine, they’re continuing to work with community providers who will work with the state to also provide the vaccine when more comes in. And they’re making sure that providers who are currently vaccinating keep their records current, in order to make sure they get more from the government when it’s needed.

“Has there been satisfaction with the process? So far, no, there hasn’t been. I’m not satisfied so I don’t think anyone else is satisfied either,” she said. “But we continue to work toward solutions, and we appreciate the understanding of everyone in the state regarding how we are tackling this monumental and Herculean task.”

The work to increase the response to vaccine demand comes as Madison County has had 20 deaths in the last two weeks. But Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said there are good signs. The county has passed what was expected to be the time cases would spike from the Christmas and New Year holidays, and cases have gone down some.

Battle said the number of people hospitalized also has gone down, and Huntsville Hospital is reporting fewer employees out because of the coronavirus.

But he also said people need to make sure they do not tax hospitals and first responders, or get complacent because people are starting to get vaccinated. He said people should continue to follow public health guidelines.

“It’s a math problem,” Battle said. “You have to look at it. There’s 440,000 people in Madison County. So even at 10,000 a week it’s going to be quite a while before we get to the stage where everybody is vaccinated.”

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