While more than 1.5 million Alabamians are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, people under 65 with serious medical conditions are still playing the waiting game.
“Unfortunately, Alabama has a whole lot of those problems in abundance, chronic health problems like diabetes, and heart disease, and even obesity, and chronic lung disease,” said Alabama State Health Officer Scott Harris on Friday. “That group of people makes up about a third of our state.”
Harris said the state still has no clear timetable for when it expects to make the vaccine available to those with pre-existing conditions that make them more likely to have serious problems if they also catch COVID-19.
“Everyone deserves to have the vaccine,” Harris said in a media call. “And you know, it’s certainly not because we’ve said somebody is more important than somebody else, or somebody is more deserving than some somebody else. The problem is we just don’t have enough to go around right now.”
Harris said more than 530,000 Alabamians have received at least one dose of the two-dose COVID vaccines, but there are more than 1.5 million people in Alabama currently eligible to receive the vaccine, including people age 65 and older, medical workers, first responders, teachers, child-care workers and certain food and critical infrastructure workers.
According to the Alabama vaccine allocation plan — compiled using guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies — the next group of people to be made eligible for the vaccine would include people with certain health conditions, including cancer, kidney disease, heart conditions, immune problems, obesity, smoking, diabetes, pregnancy and more.
So far there has been no separate carve-out for people who have more serious illnesses as opposed to more common conditions like obesity or smoking, and Harris gave no hints as to when it might be made available to the group as a whole.
“The answer to your question,” said Harris, “is we will absolutely make that available as soon as possible. We just don’t have enough right now.”
As of Friday, Alabama reported receiving just over 1 million doses of vaccine, about a third of the total number of doses needed to fully vaccinate those who are currently eligible. Harris said the amount of vaccine the state receives each week is slowly increasing, thanks to improvements in the manufacturing process, but the state does not expect a dramatic increase in supply unless new vaccines are authorized for use in the U.S.
In the meantime, Harris said the state does not plan to offer the vaccine to additional populations until demand begins to subside among the currently eligible groups.
“As long as we’re running our clinics, and we’re giving every dose we have, and there’s, you know, enough demand that we don’t have vaccines sitting on the shelf, I think we’re going to continue to stay the course,” Harris said. “And then when we see that demand falls off a little bit, that will be the time to expand.”