Pharmacies, clinics prepare for Alabama's vaccine eligibility expansion

Vaccine eligibility will extend to all adults 75 and older as well as more first responders starting on January 18.

Posted: Jan 8, 2021 11:42 PM

Near the end of their business day on Friday, things finally started to slow down for Payless Pharmacy in Decatur.

Another busy week of issuing vaccines to the medical community was close to being in the books. But Friday brought with it a new wrinkle: the Alabama Department of Public health informed them that they would be among the first sites in the state to start offering the coronavirus vaccine during the soft rollout of the 1B group.

The consultation room at Payless Pharmacy in Decatur now serves as the vaccination room for the Moderna vaccine. The freezer in the corner will soon house shipments of the Pfizer vaccine as well. The consultation room at Payless Pharmacy in Decatur now serves as the vaccination room for the Moderna vaccine. The freezer in the corner will soon house shipments of the Pfizer vaccine as well.

That includes adults 75 and older as well as more first responders.

"We're going to try to ramp up to get more vaccines than what we've been doing recently every day. That's what we're in the process of: getting more vaccinators and servicing the need of this community," said Chris Matthews, a pharmacist at Payless Pharmacy.

Matthews said as of now, they are issuing between 40-50 vaccines each day. He said they hope to roughly double that amount when the state expands the eligibility. 

"When this happens, we'll be doing close to 100 a day and we've talked about clinics and other things, whatever we need to do to get this ball rolling with this pandemic to make it stop," Matthews said.

In addition to planning for the physical space to administer the vaccinations, Payless Pharmacy is also working to acquire a digital data logger for one of its freezers. It sends back data instantly to the state about how cold the freezer is at any given time.

Once they have that in house, it will allow them to start receiving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine. Matthews said he expects it to arrive soon, potentially this coming week.

The Decatur pharmacy isn't the only non-hospital gearing up for the vaccine expansion. Mainstreet Family Care in Arab will also be among the first wave. Spokesperson Betsy Stewart said those wanting to get vaccinated need to sign up that day and can do so two hours before the clinic opens. 

She said it's important for prospective recipients and their children to familiarize themselves with the process ahead of time.

"So, we want people to know what to expect and understand that registration process so that it is as smooth and easy experience and that we can get as many people vaccinated as possible," Stewart said.

She added that even those who are not eligible to register just yet should fill out their interest form online.

"So, if they go to mainstreetfamilycare.com, under the COVID-19 vaccine page, there is an interest form. You can fill that out and as criteria continues to expand, we will email those patients and alert them to let them know they are now eligible," Stewart said.

"And also, if there are extra doses one day, perchance if we don't have the full 10 or 20 people registered, we will start going ahead and pulling people from that list who are in that next eligible category to come in and get that vaccine."

Similarly, Matthews said anyone can register on their website, pharmacy-decatur.com, an fill out a questionnaire, which will determine in which group someone belongs.

Other facilities, like the Center for Elder Care in Huntsville, are working to add their names to the list of sites that can administer the vaccine.

CEC founder Dr. Zaheer Khan said they submitted their paperwork on Friday to start getting the Moderna vaccine for their more than 2,700 patients. He said over the past month, they've been getting about 20-40 calls each day from those wanting to know when they will be able to become vaccinated.

"We know their history, we know their allergies and we know their families. So, for us it's better and being a geriatrician, I thought it's my obligation and responsibility to give these vaccines," Khan said.

As Payless Pharmacies was preparing to close for the day on Friday, Matthews noted that they are excited to get to the next phase of vaccinations, since that means taking one more step towards ending the pandemic. 

"Everybody's urgently wanting to get this and I get it. We all get it. We all want to help as many people as we can, but we have to do it in the right way," Matthews said.

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