This story was updated at 5:00 p.m. on Jan. 19 with response from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Four Alabama lawmakers — two of whom were hospitalized with COVID-19 themselves — have signed a letter saying the state’s slow rollout and inconsistent reporting could result in the state getting fewer COVID-19 vaccine doses in the future.
State Senators Jim McClendon, Greg Albritton, Tom Whatley and Randy Price — all Republicans — released a letter Tuesday titled “The COVID Vaccine Distribution Problem in Alabama,” blaming the Alabama Department of Public Health for slowdowns in administering the vaccine and in failing to accurately record its distribution efforts so far.
“The distribution of vaccines to Alabama will continue to be interrupted until Alabama plays by the rules,” the letter states. ”The rule is simple: The CDC will not authorize shipments to Alabama until they know we are using what we have on hand. Our citizens are paying a deadly price.”
The ADPH issued a response Tuesday afternoon, saying the department was in “ongoing conversations” with CDC about how many doses have been administered in the state, and that the state has not missed out on any doses of vaccine.
“The number of COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated to Alabama is based on our population, and is not determined by how much vaccine is on hand in the state,” the ADPH said. “The number of doses remaining from previous allocations does not affect the number of doses that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorizes for Alabama.”
In their letter, the senators referenced a new policy, announced last week by the CDC, that vaccine allocations will be prioritized toward states that are distributing the vaccine more quickly. But, that policy was not immediate and has not yet taken effect.
CDC data as of late last week showed Alabama with the lowest COVID vaccination rate of any state, although ADPH said it did not concur with the CDC’s numbers. The department said it was taking steps to ensure that all the doses being given in the state were being counted.
The Alabama Senators argue that ranking could result in reduced shipments for Alabama. The senators say that the ADPH is “unable to provide” information to the CDC on how many doses have been received, distributed and administered to patients in the state on a daily basis. They say the 200+ locations that are distributing the vaccine must be forced to report those doses quickly.
“In a nutshell, ADPH must get every dose that has been administered entered into the registry for the Feds to send us more,” the letter states. “While over 200 locations are giving doses, not all are entering them. And to be honest, the doctors, pharmacists, nurses who are giving Covid vaccinations in addition to their daily duties are already doing ADPHs job, and blaming them for not entering doses into the registry is nonproductive.”
The ADPH said in its response those questions have been answered.
“The data to answer each of the questions asked in the letter is publicly available on the ADPH COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Dashboard, which can be accessed on the ADPH website (arcg.is/OrCey) and has been updated as of January 19, 2021,” the department said. “The data from the CDC is available on its vaccine data tracker website (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#vaccinations), although CDC has not updated Alabama’s information since January 15, 2021.”
ADPH Assistant General Counsel Dana Billingsley told AL.com in an email last week that vaccine providers are required to report vaccine information within 24 hours of the vaccine being given, but that some providers were “not providing complete information,” which resulted in some doses not being recorded by the state.
“This problem is being addressed and corrected in order to ensure that all doses of vaccine are counted in CDC data,” Billingsley said on Friday.
The senators suggest that ADPH require accurate and timely reporting from the clinics, pharmacies and hospitals that give the shots, and that facilities that cannot handle the reporting requirements “not be supplied with additional vaccine till they comply.”
McClendon and Price were each hospitalized with COVID themselves, with Price reportedly requiring a ventilator during his recovery. Whatley has said he also tested positive but did not require hospitalization.
The department said it is doing all it can to administer the vaccine as quickly as possible.
“ADPH receives thousands of calls, e-mails, and social media messages every day from people who are providing suggestions to help the vaccination process move faster,” ADPH said. “We appreciate any recommendations, and want the public to rest assured that ADPH has a tremendous staff of physicians, nurses, public health experts, and other medical professionals who continue to work tirelessly on the vaccine rollout in Alabama. A vaccination plan of this size is truly unprecedented, and ADPH is grateful for everyone’s continued patience as we work to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
*AL.com reporter Sarah Whites-Koditschek contributed to this report.