WINSTON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Many hospitals in Alabama’s rural counties will still have to wait some time before receiving an allocation of COVID-19 vaccines.
While 15 care facilities received the Pfizer vaccine this week for health care workers, others expect to receive shipments in the next few weeks.
“Planning in rural communities is really related to the facilities that are there and the products they can handle and understanding it will be important to outreach in those pockets to ensure equity of vaccine distribution,” said Dr. Karen Landers with the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The Pfizer vaccine requires transportation and storage at ultra cold temperatures. If the FDA approves the Moderna vaccine, it may be more feasible for some smaller hospitals that do not have the equipment for the Pfizer vaccine.
“We really expect those hospitals, again, if we have approval of the additional product to receive the vaccine likely next week, and again the ultra cold product was a bit more challenging to handle as far as the storage but also the amount of vaccine that had to be ordered,” said Landers.
Hospitals across Alabama are dealing with staffing shortages. At Winston County’s only hospital in Haleyville, half of the inpatients are COVID-19 positive.
“We have plenty of beds but we don’t have enough staff, that just seems to be a problem, even at our larger hospitals and we occasionally have beds available. Right now we don’t have any COVID beds available, of course with discharges that changes, but we are struggling just like other hospitals,” said Ashley Pool, CEO of Lakeland Community Hospital in Haleyville.
Pool said the hospital has requested about 2,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. She has not been given a date to expect a shipment.
“We know we won’t get it this week or next week. We do have the ultra cold storage here, so we are prepared to receive the Pfizer vaccine if it is available to us, but of course Moderna would be much easier for us to have available to the community not having to worry about the cold storage,” Pool said.
Lakeland Community Hospital is about 45 minutes from some of the larger hospitals in north Alabama. Once it does receive the vaccine, healthcare workers from around the region may have the opportunity to take the vaccine.
“The hospital, our healthcare workers will receive 50 percent of our initial vaccine delivery and then 15 percent to EMS, first responders, police, firefighters. 15 percent will go to our physician offices, and another 15 percent for still nursing facilities,” said Pool.
For now, Pool plans to administer the vaccine at the hospital during a vaccine clinic once it is available.
“This is a very large county and so if we need to take those vaccines out to the rest of the county, of course we will,” said Pool.
In rural areas without a hospital, ADPH said other healthcare providers will help with vaccine distribution once it is available.
“It really will take the group of community partners, as I mentioned, doctors offices, rural health clinics, urgent care clinics, pharmacies, health departments,” said Landers.
Healthcare providers and EMS workers are eligible for the first round of vaccines under the state’s distribution plan. Nursing home caregivers and residents are expected to be next.
Winston County Sheriff Horace Moore is hopeful there will be options for deputies. Several of his staff members have been cleared to return to work after being out because of impacts from the virus, but so far no cases have been reported at the jail.
“If they take the vaccine they are not going to spread it when they go out in the field, on calls, arrest somebody and bring them into the jail,” said Moore.
Moore told CBS 42 he has asked his staff who would be willing to take the vaccine, but less than half said they would. While he won’t require deputies to take the vaccine, he is hopeful those who are skeptical will consider it.
“It has all got to work together, the majority of people is going to have to take the vaccine in order for it to work for everybody and I am going to take it, I will tell you that upfront,” said Moore.
Health leaders continue to urge everyone to follow health precautions like social distancing, wearing a mask, and practicing good hygiene until a vaccine is available to everyone, likely in the spring.