MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s low vaccination rate makes the state vulnerable to an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, an infectious disease expert warned Wednesday.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said “hospitalization rates are increasing exactly as we saw before” in regions of the country with low vaccination rates.
“We are starting to see that trend and are very, very concerned,” Marrazzo said of Alabama.
Alabama has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country with about one-third of people fully vaccinated.
Marrazzo warned that unvaccinated people can be a “factory” for virus variants because it increases the opportunity for the virus to mutate into new forms that “allow it to do all those things that we are scared of.”
“The virus loves unvaccinated people. Why? Because it’s a complete party. They get in there. They can multiply.”
Alabama has seen a slight uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations and the percent of tests coming back positive, state numbers show. There were 256 people in state hospitals with COVID-19 on Wednesday, although that is a fraction of the 3,000 that were hospitalized at the peak of the pandemic.
Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said he thinks the increase is tied to low vaccination rate plus the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.
However, he said he is hopeful it won’t return to where it was in January because of the high vaccination rate among elderly people, who are most at risk for complications.
The percentage of tests returning positive for COVID-19 has increased to 4.8%, the highest point since mid-May, the Alabama Department of Public Health said in a news release.
“Young people and others who are taking a wait-and-see stance on vaccination should be aware that they need to protect themselves, their families, friends, and communities by getting vaccinated as soon as they can,” the department said.