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Doses might go to waste as local COVID vaccinations far short of goal

Local health care institutions may end the summer with unused doses of COVID-19 vaccine, despite the fact that two-thirds of Calhoun County residents have yet to get their first shot.

“We do have vaccines that are likely to expire,” said Kandi Williams, infection control specialist for Regional Medical Center and coordinator of the Anniston hospital’s vaccination campaign.

Federal officials earlier this year said they hoped to have 70 percent of the population vaccinated by Independence Day — enough to make it safe for people everywhere to gather without masks or social distancing.

It hasn’t worked out that way in Alabama. Across the state, governments have abandoned mask mandates and people work and shop largely without facial coverings. The state vaccination rate, however, is about half the national goal, according to numbers from the Alabama Department of Public Health.

In Calhoun County, 32 percent of people have had their first dose of a vaccine — meaning that 68 percent haven’t had a single dose. Most counties around Calhoun have similar low vaccination rates, save for Cleburne County, which is even lower with 77 percent of the population completely unvaccinated.

Lack of access to the vaccine isn’t the problem. Williams said RMC hosts walk-in vaccine clinics every Friday at the Tyler Center; typically, the clinic gets around 10 patients.

Statewide, 4,500 vaccine doses have already expired, television station WSFA reported earlier this week. Williams said RMC doesn’t yet have expired doses, though she said it’s likely some will go unused before they expire at the end of summer.

Williams said the decline in shots at the Tyler Center site may be due to the vaccine being available more widely than it was a few months ago — but ADPH numbers show that the pace of vaccination fell sharply in May and has remained low through June.

Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests the job of convincing the unvaccinated may prove difficult. Since January, Kaiser’s polls showed about 20 percent of the nation’s population saying they’ll refuse a vaccine or take one only if they’re required to do so. That number has remained stable even as the number of people who’ve gotten the vaccine has grown and the number of people who were on the fence about the vaccine has shrunk.

Those numbers aren’t broken down by state, though Kaiser’s polls show rural people and Republicans among the groups most likely to say they’re “definitely not” going to get vaccinated.

Tom Dixon, director of Oxford Health Systems, said Wednesday that Oxford’s drive-through shot clinic on Hamric Drive is now down to five or six patients per day. He said he’s not worried about vaccines expiring in the immediate future; Oxford’s current batch is good until the end of July.

He said he doesn’t understand the lack of interest.

“It’s odd to me,” he said. “I don’t have an answer.”

Statewide, the virus has killed more than 11,000 people since COVID arrived in Alabama in March 2020. In Calhoun County, the death toll as of Wednesday stood at 330.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.