Local COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Facing Busy Signals on Hotline, ‘Math Problem’

The Alabama Department of Public Health has a message for people frustrated by not being able to reach through the COVID-19 vaccination scheduling hotline: keep trying.

With the state beginning virus vaccinations for citizens aged 75 years and older and emergency frontline workers Jan. 18, ADHP began scheduling appointments for local health departments the week prior.

That is, if callers could get through.

“Our hotline has not worked very well,” said the ADPH’s Dr. Karen Landers during the weekly coronavirus update at the Huntsville City Council chambers.

Busy signals at the hotline — 1-855-566-5333 — greeted callers more than a voice answering on the other end for the first week of scheduling for the general public rollout.

Landers said measures are being taken to remedy the problem.

An original 100 lines were ordered with 165 people trained to take calls. The ADHP, which contracted the hotline work, has asked for the number of lines to be doubled.

The state is also developing an online registration site.

“We recognize there are parts of our plan that need to be changed,” Landers said. “There are parts of our plan that need to be fixed, and we are working on that in order to be able to provide a better service to not only the citizens of Alabama, but also the citizens of (Madison County) and the cities within this county.”

According to Landers, as of Jan.11 an original 87,000 vaccines had been administered. The state originally had 271,000 doses allocated, including the second dose for those who received the first.

“Keep in mind,’’ Landers said, “at this moment vaccine supply remains limited. So we certainly have more people wanting appointments than we have vaccines available.”

A published report, citing statistics from the nation’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said Alabama was last in the nation in percentage of population that has been vaccinated so far at 1.9 percent.

But Landers said the ADPH data “does not concur with CDC’s data at this moment.’’

The CDC has recommended states include those 65 and older in the original rollout. Obviously, Alabama did not have the supplies to include another group.

“We are certainly hoping for more shipments,’’ Landers said. “We have asked for more shipments.”

All available appointments at local health departments have been filled, but there is a waiting list.

“Has there been satisfaction with the process? So far, no, there hasn’t been,’’ Landers said. “I’m not satisfied so I don’t think anyone else is satisfied.

“But we continue to work toward solutions, and we appreciate the understanding of everyone in the state regarding how we are tackling this monumental and Herculean task.”

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle urged citizens to continue following safety guidelines while awaiting vaccinations.

“It’s a math problem,” Battle said. “You have to look at it. There’s 440,000 people in Madison County. So even at 10,000 a week it’s going to be quite a while before we get to the stage where everybody is vaccinated.”