In the 12 days since Oxford Health Systems opened a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Oxford’s Hamric Drive, director Tom Dixon has had an up-close look at one of the most frustrating paradoxes of the vaccination campaign.
When appointments for shots become available, people snatch them up almost instantly.
Yet, at the end of the day, clinics often have unused doses, and they have to look for patients to take them.
Dixon now has some insight into why.
“Some people go to different vaccine clinics and they book every appointment they can,” Dixon said. “But they only go to the appointment with the clinic that calls them first.”
Oxford Health recently acquired its first doses of Pfizer vaccine and began offering shots to drive-thru customers in late March. On Wednesday, Dixon announced a second phase of the shot campaign. Oxford Health plans to offer shots next week at one-day clinics at Oxford Civic Center, Bynum Community Center, Friendship Community Center and a to-be-announced location in Piedmont.
People who want to set up an appointment for either the drive-thru clinic or the community center clinics can go to Oxford Health’s Eventbrite page, or can get there through www.oxfordal.gov/covid-19.
“Because there is a very high demand for the vaccine, please register and get the shot ASAP,” reads a bold-faced message on the website.
The scramble for vaccine appointments has become a familiar feature of pandemic life — and yet the vaccine business hasn’t always operated like an economy where demand is high. At clinics across the county, people have told reporters that they’re tried several places before finally landing an appointment. Yet there’s often a rush to give away shots after people don’t show up for their appointments.
“Here, I’ve seen where the same person will book an appointment for every day of the week, because they don’t know what day they’ll be free to come out,” Dixon said. “That just took vaccine away from four other people.”
Dixon is quick to note that those four extra appointments don’t become wasted shots. They’ll go into the arms of people who are on waiting lists, or who happen to be available to get the shot before it goes bad —- typically in a few hours, with the Pfizer vaccine, Dixon said.
“We certainly would like people to cancel their appointments if they find vaccine elsewhere,” said Dr. Karen Landers, an assistant state health officer who is involved in the state’s COVID response.
Landers said she has heard similar reports of overbooking of shot appointments, though she said it hasn’t affected the total number of shots given in the state. So far, she said, it hasn’t been hard to find people willing to take the shots that others passed up.
“We have to stay on this all the time, but so far the demand for the vaccine is high,” she said.
Winn-Dixie among new vaccine sites
As the vaccine becomes more widely available, the number of outlets offering it has mushroomed. Regional Medical Center first offered mass-vaccination clinics, then began offering smaller batches to local nonprofits. Local pharmacies get shipments on a catch-as-catch-can basis. Major retailers such as Walmart and CVS have offered vaccines, and Winn-Dixie announced this week that it would soon offer the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at dozens of stores across the state.
Asked if a single vaccine registration site could have done away with some appointment duplications, Landers said there was little time to develop that approach as health officials worked to get the vaccine out to the public.
More than a million people in the state have had at least one dose of vaccine, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health, and more than 630,000 are fully vaccinated after receiving two doses.
In Calhoun County, 305 people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, but the rate of deaths has dropped sharply in recent weeks as immunization has become more widespread.