High Demand For COVID-19 Vaccine Strains Health Departments In South

 1529467491 
1610560680

University of Alabama at Birmingham Media Relations

By NPR’s Debbie Elliott

An uneven vaccine rollout across Southern states is causing frustration. Health departments are overwhelmed with people seeking shots as phone lines and websites are unable to keep up with the demand.


AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Frustration is mounting over an uneven and at times chaotic vaccine rollout across Southern states, states which are also reporting record numbers of COVID-19 deaths right now. Health departments are largely overwhelmed by the demand for shots, as NPR’s Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Alabama Home Health worker Michele Lartigue got her initial dose of COVID vaccine on December 28.

MICHELE LARTIGUE: I was one of the first people in line to get it at my local health department. And it was very exciting. It was a relief.

ELLIOTT: Lartigue is an occupational therapist in south Alabama.

LARTIGUE: With the setting that I’m in, I’m in people’s homes. And so I just felt like it would afford me the extra protection.

ELLIOTT: Now it’s time to schedule her second dose through a state hotline. But here’s what she’s up against.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We’re sorry. Your call did not go through. Will you please hang up and try your call again? This is a recording.

LARTIGUE: You cannot get through on that number.

ELLIOTT: She’s tried dozens of times.

LARTIGUE: It’s frustrating. I just want to get the vaccination, the second shot, in time.

ELLIOTT: Her coworker, Thomas Barfield, kept trying the hotline.

THOMAS BARFIELD: I think I hit redial probably, like, 40 times, and it finally went through.

ELLIOTT: But there were no appointments available in a five-county radius. He was put on a waiting list and later got an email saying a drive-through vaccine clinic may be available later this month with no appointment necessary. Barfield says that sounds like a traffic nightmare, with no priority for people needing a second dose.

BARFIELD: The whole process is just kind of chaos.

ELLIOTT: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey got her second dose of the vaccine yesterday and said it’s a good sign that so many people are calling to try to get an appointment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAY IVEY: Be patient, stay calm, and you’ll get your shot.

ELLIOTT: Alabama state health officer Scott Harris says part of the problem is there’s just not enough vaccine to go around.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SCOTT HARRIS: There’s just much, much more demand for the vaccine than we have right now. We believe that we can get it to everybody eventually, but we would just ask people to please continue to be patient. We’re doing our best to improve our phone line ability.

ELLIOTT: Alabama’s not alone. In Texas, after early confusion over who was eligible for shots, scheduling portals crashed under pressure. In Georgia, several hospitals were sending the message – don’t call us, we’ll call you. States have different plans for determining eligibility and how to get shots in arms. In Mississippi, for example, the National Guard helped set up drive-through vaccination sites. Florida recruited the Publix supermarket chain and churches to help with inoculations.

The state-by-state approach breeds confusion and mistrust, says Thomas LaVeist, dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. He says it’s not surprising that states are overwhelmed with such an enormous mission.

THOMAS LAVEIST: State health departments are not well positioned to handle something of this magnitude. Over the last 30 years or so, we’ve really divested the public health infrastructure and left that infrastructure significantly weakened.

ELLIOTT: LaVeist says the federal government should be taking a larger coordinating role. Alabama home health worker Michele Lartigue says the system must be fixed.

LARTIGUE: So that we can move on and have a normal society again.

ELLIOTT: But for now, Lartigue says she’s caught in limbo, not knowing if she’ll be able to get her second dose of vaccine on time.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF COOPER SAMS’ “WHITE WAVES”)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

More Coronavirus Coverage

Environmental Groups Appeal Judge’s Cahaba River Ruling To The Supreme Court

Two local environmental groups are appealing a Jefferson County Circuit Court’s recent decision to throw out the lawsuit against the Birmingham Water Works Board.

Bang, Bang. You’re Closed: Birmingham Threatens To Close Clubs With Violent Episodes

A drive-by shooting at Club Euphoria in west Birmingham left 21-year-old Lykeria Taylor dead and another male injured. Earlier that night, gunfire broke out at the club, leaving three others with non-life-threatening injuries.

Five Ways Birmingham Is Celebrating Its 150th Birthday

Mayor Randall Woodfin and the CEO of Vulcan Park and Museum announced this week a series of events to celebrate Birmingham’s 150 anniversary.

Shipt Founder, Bill Smith, Brings His Latest Startup To Birmingham

Landing, an apartment rental company, will relocate it headquarters to Birmingham, creating more than 800 new jobs.

To Curb Gun Violence In Gulf States, Activists Are Taking A Closer Look At Policing Alternatives

Over Memorial Day weekend, at least 26 shootings were reported in major cities across Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. At least 10 people were killed and 17 others were injured. It was the latest example of rising homicides and gun violence across the Gulf states this year.

More Coronavirus Coverage