By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Four Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday called on the Alabama Department of Public Health to improve its COVID-19 vaccine distribution pipeline and recording system.
In response, ADPH said the state’s allotment of vaccines is based on population, not rate of distribution.
State Sens. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, Greg Albritton, R-Range, Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, and Randy Price, R-Opelika, said in a written statement that Alabama’s vaccine pipeline has a “kink” which could result in Alabama missing out on vaccines distributed from the federal government.
“The distribution of vaccines to Alabama will continue to be interrupted until Alabama plays by the rules,” the statement said. “The rule is simple: The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) will not authorize shipments to Alabama until they know we are using what we have on hand. Our citizens are paying a deadly price.”
ADPH issued a response to the senators’ comments saying it is in ongoing conversations with the CDC to provide the necessary vaccine information.
“While the department works with CDC to resolve data issues that have been encountered due to a response of this size, it does not in any way affect the number of doses that Alabama receives,” ADPH said.
ADPH explained further how the amount of vaccine doses given to states is determined.
“The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated to Alabama is based on our population, and is not determined by how much vaccine is on hand in the state,” the department said through a spokesman. “The number of doses remaining from previous allocations does not affect the number of doses that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorizes for Alabama.”
The CDC currently ranks Alabama last in the nation on the percentage of population for states that have administered the COVID-19 vaccine but that information hasn’t been updated since Jan. 15.
The ADPH issued a statement last week saying they disagreed with the CDC’s ranking and said some entities did not report complete information, which meant some doses administered were not included in the CDC’s numbers.
ADPH said the issue has been corrected and reminded all providers that doses of the vaccine must be recorded in the state’s Immunization Patient Registry with Integrated Technology system within 24 hours of administration.
The lawmakers said that if entities are not properly registering the doses administered then it is ADPH’s duty to contact them all to ensure they are.
“The solution seems easy enough,” their letter said. “Call all 221 locations and ask for how many doses they have on hand and compare that to what was sent to them. ImmPRINT is Alabama’s version of a statewide vaccine registry, and If those doses are not entered into ImmPRINT the ADPH should request the patient list and ADPH should enter those doses to get the kink out of our supply pipeline.”
The senators also say ADPH should refrain from providing any more vaccine doses to entities until they comply with the proper registry protocol.
Whatley, Price and McClendon contracted COVID-19 last year, with the latter two requiring hospitalization to combat the illness.
ADPH on Tuesday said the biggest obstacle in the vaccination effort remains to be the limited supply.
“Alabama currently has approximately 676,000 people in Alabama who qualify to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but since our state is allocated only around 50,000 – 60,000 primary doses each week, the supply is not available to reach these numbers at this time,” ADPH said.
On Monday, ADPH began vaccinating individuals 75 years and older, as well as certain first responders like law enforcement officers and firefighters. The statewide hotline to make appointments to receive the vaccine received around 1.1 million calls on its first day of operation earlier this month.
The state is asking that the public remain patient.
“We appreciate any recommendations, and want the public to rest assured that ADPH has a tremendous staff of physicians, nurses, public health experts, and other medical professionals who continue to work tirelessly on the vaccine rollout in Alabama,” ADPH said in the Tuesday statement. “A vaccination plan of this size is truly unprecedented, and ADPH is grateful for everyone’s continued patience as we work to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As of Tuesday, the ADPH reported that 158,116 vaccine doses have been administered out of the 446,150 doses that have been delivered to Alabama. Currently 640,150 doses have been allocated to Alabama.
Last year, Whatley sponsored, with Albritton and McClendon as co-sponsors, legislation to give lawmakers more say in extending emergency orders, like the one the state is currently under, issued by the governor and state health officer. The bill also said that no public health order issued by the state health officer will take effect until it is signed by the governor and delivered to the secretary of state. Current orders, like the late March order that closed many Alabama businesses and limited public gatherings, are signed by Public Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris alone.
Whatley has said he will sponsor the bill again in the session that starts next month.