Helen Keller Hospital waits on new shipment of coronavirus vaccines

It's been a month since the hospital got a new shipment of vaccines.

Posted: Feb 24, 2021 3:53 PM
Updated: Feb 24, 2021 8:16 PM

All health departments are out of first-round doses of coronavirus vaccines in Colbert, Lauderdale and Franklin Counties.

The North Alabama Medical Center in Florence has a vaccination clinic this week, but it's not open to the public. It's only for first responders and teachers.

Helen Keller Hospital hasn't had a shipment of new first-round doses in over a month.

"Jan. 18 was our last shipment of first-round doses," said Helen Keller Hospital President, Kyle Buchanan, on Wednesday.

Buchanan said they have enough doses to complete second rounds for people 75 years and older, but they just don't know when they will get more vaccines.

"We share in the public's frustration. I mean, put yourselves in our shoes. There are no groups of people who are more excited to see this pandemic squashed," said Buchanan.

To make matters worse, last week's winter storm stopped vaccination efforts for second-round doses in their tracks.

"Almost every time we received an updated forecast and realized it would be unsafe to ask 500 75+ year olds to venture out in the ice and snow, we'd say, 'sorry, Mr. Johnson, we're going to have to move your appointment back,'" said Buchanan.

Buchanan said right now, they have over 11,000 people on their waiting list for the vaccine. He said once they get doses, they can vaccinate close to 1,000 people a day. For people across the state with underlying conditions, they are still waiting to be eligible for the vaccine because of the state's phase restrictions.

"I understand the state's dilemma. We haven't received enough doses to push through Phase 1B yet, so I could understand why they would be hesitant to open up a new category and take our waiting list from 11,000 to 26,000 with no new doses," said Buchanan.

Some health departments in the Shoals said they hope to get a new shipment of first-round doses at the beginning of March. All appointments in the Shoals for Walmart vaccine clinics are full and don't give you an option to schedule one because they're booked.

In some good news, Helen Keller Hospital only has 10 patients hospitalized with coronavirus. Just six weeks ago, the hospital had 68 coronavirus patients, which pushed the limits of staff and the hospital.

Hospital officials believe there are many factors that go into this decline. They said last week's winter storm forced people in Franklin, Colbert and Lauderdale Counties to social distance. They said it's unlikely that vaccinations have helped drive down infections, because enough people still haven't been vaccinated.

Buchanan said he believes another factor is people who have had the virus and successfully fought it off, and now, they have antibodies.

"I do think the story-telling aspect of it is a factor. Now, we continue to hear people say up until last month, 'I didn't know anyone that had it, and now, I know two people in my church who passed away,' and so it's hitting closer to home for more people now to a degree that I think individuals are shifting behaviors to reduce the spread," said Buchanan.

Buchanan said Helen Keller Hospital is equipped to handle coronavirus for the long-run. They still encourage people to wear masks, social distance and wash their hands to help combat the virus.

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