Officials discuss Alabama's plans for rural distribution of coronavirus vaccine

The first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived at hospitals around the nation on Monday.

Posted: Dec 14, 2020 6:49 PM
Updated: Dec 14, 2020 8:51 PM

As hospitals around the nation begin to receive doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, the focus in Alabama is on phase one -- where 15 sites will receive 41,000 vials during the period. 

While it's currently unclear how long the state will remain in the first phase of distribution, there are already concerns about how the vaccine will be rolled out in Alabama's rural communities. 

Pfizer's vaccine arrived at hospitals around the country on Monday.

During a Monday news conference, Dr. William Curry of the University of Alabama at Birmingham said 10 counties have a positive testing rate of over 45%. Seven of them are completely rural.

"If you also look closely," Curry said, "they’re all from the northern part of the state.”

Though we are still in the initial stages of phase one, Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health said there will be a reliance on a foundation of community partners to help distribute the vaccine when the time comes. 

"We will certainly be working with partners within those communities, such as rural health clinics, urgent cares, doctors' offices, pharmacies, to be able to administer the COVID vaccine," Landers explained, adding that this will only be possible once more doses are available and sites are able to store them. 

She said, in some cases, portable freezers may be provided or the shipping container may be used for storage in these rural areas. 

The mass vaccination plan the state is working with is essentially an updated version of what was used during the swine flu outbreak on a much larger scale, according to Landers. 

In Jackson County, EMA Director Paul Smith described the process as roughly the same as what you'd see with a flu vaccine. 

Smith said ADPH has complete oversite on distribution, adding that his group can only step in if there is a need for alternative distribution. 

“Of course, we exercised that earlier this fall, back in October, with our drive-thru flu clinic. So, that was basically a dress rehearsal for the COVID vaccine. We’ll do that the same way," he explained. 

Curry said on Monday that it is their hope that there will be very little difference between the distribution seen in rural and urban locations, adding that UAB is working to develop a reliable supply chain within the state.

Landers noted additional hospitals will be receiving doses in the coming weeks but did not specify which ones. She said that rural areas will be further addressed as shipments continue to arrive.

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