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Alabama to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, while CDC explores hesitancy

Alabama’s effort to expand COVID-19 vaccinations enters a new phase on March 22nd. That’s when the State will add 2,000,000 more resident eligible for a shot. The revised list will include more frontline workers, people 55 and older, those with developmental disabilities, and residents aged 16 to 64 with certain high-risk medical conditions. The qualifying medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, smoking, obesity, sickle cell disease and heart conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also working to find why Alabamians appear especially hesitant to be vaccinated. APR Gulf coast correspondent Guy Busby explored that issue in minority communities in the Mobile area. Dr. Errol Crook is chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of South Alabama. He helped author a study on the subject.

“I think could be summed up best by saying about really issues around trust,” said Crook. “Trust in the safety of the vaccine. Trust in something now that’s really had a government backing and support. Many of the individuals don’t have the trust in that government to do well on their behalf.”

Their report indicates that COVID has hit lower income communities hard. Residents have been cut off from support networks while losing income. Dr. Martha Arrieta worked on that same study. She says transportation is another issue keeping minority residents in Mobile from getting help.

"Even when with testing, there were actually walk-in places within the community that were set up by our federally qualified health centers, they explained to us that some people may, even if they are in the community, still, they are not able to walk in. For them, they are too are away,” said Dr. Arrieta.

The CDC is sending a five member investigative team to Alabama’s Black Belt to talk to residents and healthcare providers on why people may not roll up their sleeves for a coronavirus vaccination. The Pathcheck Foundation dashboard says Alabama has inoculated just over sixteen percent of its population. That lags behind southern states like Mississippi and Louisiana, but just ahead of Georgia.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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