UAB experts: We need more Alabamians to receive COVID vaccine to safely return to normal – News

UAB has removed all barriers for vaccine administration with no appointments needed at any of its four community vaccination sites.


Videography: Andrea Reiber and Carson Young

In an effort to remove additional barriers to vaccination and encourage more people to seek vaccines, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine are now offering vaccines at all four of their community vaccination locations with no appointment necessary.

UAB has four community vaccination sites available to all Alabamians, and there is no cost to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The sites are located at Parker High School and UAB Hospital-Highlands in downtown Birmingham, AOH Cathedral of the Cross in Center Point, and at the Hoover Met. But the number of people visiting these sites is declining, which means two things, according to Sarah Nafziger, M.D., vice president of Clinical Services at UAB.

Click image to enlarge.“It means we still need many more people to get vaccinated, because enough Alabamians have not received the vaccine to help us end the pandemic,” Nafziger said. “It also means that, if the number of people coming to our sites continues to decline, we will have to close our sites much sooner than expected. We will be at our sites as long as the demand is there; but we are seeing the demand taper off, and we are watching it very closely.”

UAB is spending $1.4 million a month to operate its four community vaccination locations, but the number of people receiving a first-dose vaccine at these locations has dropped 78 percent in three weeks. While all sites are now accepting people without an appointment, those who wish to make appointments for specific dates and times may do so at uabmedicinevaccine.org.

The most recent data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows just 42 percent of Alabama adults have received one dose of a vaccine and only 30 percent are fully vaccinated. To date, none of Alabama’s counties have reached 50 percent vaccination.

Currently, everyone age 16 or older is eligible to receive the free vaccine, and anyone can get it at one of UAB’s sites without an appointment.

“In order to slow the spread of COVID to the point where we can safely return to normal — to our pre-pandemic way of life — we need to hit 3.5 million people in Alabama with immunity,” said Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in UAB’s School of Public Health. “If everyone were to stop getting vaccinated in Alabama today, by Thanksgiving of this year, we’d have roughly the same population level of immunity we had at Thanksgiving of last year. That means we would potentially be right back in lockdown and certainly right back to our hospitals’ being full.

“It is critical that Alabamians who have not received the vaccine continue to be vaccinated over the next few months.”

Pregnancy and vaccines

Two populations that have been hesitant to receive vaccines for a variety of reasons include pregnant and breastfeeding women and younger adults.

Published research continues to show pregnant and breastfeeding women can confidently receive vaccines, as a study of more than 35,000 pregnant women that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week showed.

Vaccine facts

• The vaccine is free of charge.
• Based on new CDC findings, the vaccine is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
• It is unknown how long previous infections will provide protection.
• Getting vaccinated will most likely keep you out of the hospital even if you contract one of the COVID variants.

“The study showed that the rate of complications was the same at baseline as it was pre-COVID,” Nafziger said. “We’re getting more and more data almost weekly that shows these vaccines to be safe in pregnancy or for breastfeeding moms — just like we thought. Evidence is backing that up.”

Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., associate director of Global Health in the UAB Center for Women’s Reproductive Health and infectious diseases consultant on the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s COVID-19 Task Force, explains that misinformation can be a factor in why women are objecting to the vaccine, if eligible.

“Some women are hearing dangerous myths about the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dionne-Odom said. “In response to misinformation, I find it helpful to be direct and clear: There is no scientific data that supports a link between COVID-19 vaccine and changes in fertility. When I talk to women who are interested in becoming pregnant now or down the road, I strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccination since it offers the best protection.”

Younger adults: Even if you have had COVID, get the vaccine

As for younger adults, some common feedback many health care providers are hearing is — if everyone else is getting the vaccine, why should I get it, especially if I have already had COVID previously?

“Anyone who has had COVID can catch it again, and the sickness a person experiences the second time can be worse than the first,” Nafziger said. “It’s not worth the risk of having a more severe COVID case and opening the door to the possibility of long-term complications, especially when a vaccine is available. If you are 90 days post an initial COVID diagnosis, you really should get a vaccine.”

Also, Nafziger adds that anyone who has not had a COVID-19 vaccine can carry the virus. Unvaccinated younger people still run a tremendous risk of carrying the virus and spreading it to others who are still unvaccinated.

“The bottom line is that vaccines are our ticket to getting things safely back to normal,” Nafziger said. “This is what we have to do so we can have live, in-person events — like concerts, music festivals and sporting events — in the safest manner possible. We’ve got to extinguish this pandemic to safely get back to all of that.”


All COVID variants are here in Alabama

Another reason to get a COVID-19 vaccine? All of the COVID variants that have been identified around the world — including the more contagious U.K. B.1.1.7 variant, South African B.1.351 variant and the Brazilian P.1 variant — have been discovered in UAB’s Department of Pathology Fungal Reference Lab.

The lab, directed by Sixto M. Leal Jr., M.D., Ph.D., has been analyzing 100 samples a week for the Alabama Department of Public Health to help identify which variants are here in Alabama.

“These variants are a concern because they contain mutations in the Spike protein that the virus uses to bind to and infect cells,” Leal said. “The U.K. variant spreads more easily, and the South African and Brazilian variants are less susceptible to neutralizing antibodies.”

While these variants and others like the California B.1.427 and B.1.429 COVID variants can impact the effectiveness of some treatments — and in some cases moderately reduce the effectiveness of antibodies generated by the vaccines — the CDC says current vaccines are still anticipated to reduce the risk of severe illness.

“The research so far suggests that COVID-19 vaccines still appear to provide protection against severe COVID-19, including these variants,” Nafziger said. “Getting the vaccine can most likely keep you out of the hospital should you get any of the COVID variants identified so far, and so far it has been proved to at the very least save your life.”

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