DOTHAN, Ala. (WDHN) — State Health Officer Scott Harris spoke to WDHN’s Ilyana Capellan Tuesday on Alabama’s record number of hospitalizations and the advent of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The exchange below details the future of the vaccine shipments as well as their availability in local hospitals.
IC: I understand the state has seen a record number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and this is the highest number of hospitalizations since COVID-19 began, can you tell us more about this?
HARRIS: Yeah, so we actually have recorded that the largest number of in patients that we have seen so far during this response. Just this week more than 1700 Alabamians were hospitalized overall yesterday. Not all new hospitalizations yesterday but a total number of patients in the hospital yesterday. That’s not only a new high, it’s significantly higher. Our previous high was more than 100 patients, less than that number back in mid-July.
IC: Do you know where the COVID-19 vaccines, once approved, will be distributed in Alabama, specifically Southeast Alabama? Will Flowers Hospital or Southeast Health be receiving any?
HARRIS: Yes, so we’re working at plans to make sure that it’s distributed around the state. We’re actually awaiting guidance that should come later today, or perhaps tomorrow from the Advisory Committee to CDC about how that vaccine ought to be distributed and to what groups of people. It will be largely going to health care providers at first as well as certain first responders, but we will certainly make sure that we have it available in all parts of the state. It is going to take some time though before everyone has access to it. The numbers of vaccine are simply too small to cover everyone, and so it’s going to take a few weeks before everybody has the ability to reach it. even though we’re going to make it available to those priority populations just as soon as we receive it.
IC: Do you know how many vaccines we will be receiving as a state?
HARRIS: There are, have been sort of shifting numbers in terms of how much we’re going to receive. We believe at this time that Alabama is going to get around 40,000 doses with its first shipment. That’s going to come probably in seven to 10 days from now is what we think. It’s not clear what the next alignment will be, but we know that another vaccine product, the one from Moderna, should be available probably a week after this Pfizer product becomes available. So we hope the numbers will scale up pretty quickly.
IC: Do you have a list of hospitals where the vaccines will be stored?
HARRIS: Well, we do. We’ve not published it yet, simply because we’re still in the process of working out some legal arrangements and data use agreements and so on. It is certainly not a secret. All the hospitals in your area are going to have access to it if they choose to do that. There are some limitations about how this initial vaccine product has to be stored. It requires ultracold temperatures of minus 80 degrees centigrade, and so not every single facility has the ability to do that, but almost all of them do in your part of the state. We’re not worried about finding people who are able to do that.
IC: Is there anything you can tell us about your call yesterday with Vice President Pence regarding the priority of the vaccine distribution?
HARRIS: Yeah, the call the Governor had with Vice President Pence on Monday is one I was not able to attend this time. Actually, I was briefed on that afterwards, and it was a lot of encouragement to continue doing what we’re doing. We have a lot of support for our mass mandate from the people in Washington, even though there we are aware there are a lot of mixed messages and partisanship out there about that. But overall, we believe that Alabama is doing a good job. We received encouragement from the feds to continue what we’re doing, and so hopefully with the arrival of a vaccine soon, we’re going to see better days ahead.
IC: Is there a specific date that the vaccines will be available to the general public?
HARRIS: We don’t know for certain. We think the very first shipment, again, may be in about 10 to 14 days or maybe even 7 to 10 days, but it’ll just depend on the numbers before we push that out to other folks. I think generally we’re thinking of late spring or early summer. You know four or five months from now before we’re likely to have enough for everyone.
IC: Well, Doctor Harris thank you so much for being with us today. We really appreciate everything you’re doing to help keep Alabamians safe during this pandemic.