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What we know — and don’t know — about when COVID shots will be available

COVID 19 vaccine

People wait Tuesday, Jan. 5, to sign up and get their free COVID-19 vaccines at the Anniston City Meeting Center. 

When it’s your turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the news may come as a surprise — as it did for hundreds of people in Anniston this week, when local emergency management officials suddenly offered shots for people aged 75 and older. 

As you wait in line, the person in front of you may be in a lower-priority group for vaccination. The person behind you may be in a higher-priority group. 

And the groups themselves — the state’s priority list that puts sicker people before healthier and some professions before others — are almost certain to change, and change again. 

That’s some of what state and local health officials know for sure about the vaccination process. There’s much that they still don’t know. 

“I can only imagine how confusing it must be to the general public,” said Michael Barton, director of the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency. 

Local health workers have administered around 3,700 doses of the vaccine since the first shipment arrived in Calhoun County just before Christmas. Now that the pace of shots is picking up, anxious Alabamians have begun looking closer at the state’s plan for who gets the vaccine first — available at the Alabama Department of Public Health’s website — and trying to figure out where they fit in the schedule. 

It’s complicated. 

ADPH on Thursday released a plan that shows the state vaccinating health care workers and first responders first, then people age 75 and older, then workers in essential workplaces such as schools and grocery stores, people in jail, people 65 and older, and so on until any adult can come get a shot. Those shots will go out in phases, with some people in Phase 1a, some in Phase 1b and so on. 

Don’t get too hung up on the phases. The latest ADPH plan is the third one that state or local officials have provided to The Anniston Star in a week. Local health workers are beginning to sound jaded about the constant tweaks to the plan. 

“What does Captain Jack Sparrow say in the movie?” Regional Medical Center CEO Louis Bass said. “‘The code is more like a guideline.’” 

The gist of all the plans is the same: If you’re more likely to get badly sick or you’re in a job where you can’t avoid working with the public, you’re likely to be higher on the list. If you’re young and healthy, you’re likely to wait longer. 

Or maybe not. When workers in Cleburne County wound up with leftover vaccine after a vaccination event for top-priority workers last week, they offered shots to anyone willing to roll up a sleeve.

When Calhoun County officials this week realized they had more vaccine on hand than they initially needed for health care workers, they announced that they’d move on to the 75-and-up crowd. Both moves generated upset calls about people seemingly jumping their place in line. 

Health officials look at that line differently. If shots are available, they need to be in arms. 

“This unified command is dedicated to getting the vaccine out to the people,” Barton said. “It’s not going to do any good sitting on the shelf.”

Dr. Karen Landers, an assistant state health officer, said several counties have had similar “soft transitions” to new vaccination groups.

Neither Landers nor Barton could rule out similar surprise announcements in the future.

Landers said it’s going to be common to see high-priority people such as medical workers waiting alongside people in lower priority groups. After all, schools keep graduating new health care workers. 

“We’re not ever really going to be finished with one phase,” Landers said.

Landers said state officials are hoping the vaccine will be available through other venues, such as pharmacies and doctor’s offices, in the future as supplies grow.

But they’re also frank about what they don’t know. Shot clinics for teachers at schools? For workers in the workplace? More mass-vaccination events like the one at Anniston City Meeting Center? Beyond a City Meeting Center event planned for February, much is still up in the air. 

Landers said one thing’s for sure: Scammers are likely to try and take advantage of people’s eagerness to get vaccinated. It’s something to watch out for, Landers said.

“No one’s going to come to your home to give you the vaccine,” she said. “No one from our department is going to call you on the phone and ask for your financial information.”

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

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