On Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced a new and more transmissible COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.7, had been discovered in at least three different Alabama residents in two counties.
Two of the cases were identified in Montgomery County and one from Jefferson County; two are children under 19 and one is an adult.
“These are the first reported cases in Alabama of the variant which was first detected in the United Kingdom in late 2020,” the health department stated. “The UAB Laboratory sequenced the specimens and identified them as the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.7.”
Due to the mutating nature of viruses, the health department said it had expected to find the new variant in Alabama eventually. The strain had previously been detected in at least 24 other states, including Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina and at least 293 cases in the U.S.
Though the new variant does appear to be more contagious, the health department said there is no evidence it is linked to “worse outcomes” for patients, and the COVID vaccines should still be effective against it.
On Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced people 65 and older would become eligible for the vaccine starting Feb. 8 (see details in next Wednesday’s edition). Currently, Alabama is still in the early phases of its vaccination plan, offering shots to healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement and people 75 years old and older.
Marshall County EMA Director Anita McBurnett said despite some recent confusion that resulted in people under the age of 75 getting the vaccine, the rollout has gone relatively smoothly across the county.
McBurnett and County Commission Chairman James Hutcheson said they’ve had to field calls recently from people complaining about being turned away from getting the vaccine due to them not being 75 years or older.
With that issue fixed, McBurnett said many people are beginning to receive their second dose of the vaccine even as the state’s supply remains too low to meet demand. As of Friday, the ADPH reported providers across the state had administered 323,875 doses of the vaccine out of the 772,275 total delivered.
McBurnett said unless something changes, supply issues will continue to get worse as more people — such as teachers and grocery store workers — become eligible for the vaccine sometime in the future.
As other areas are seeing scheduling issues and long waits for the vaccines, at least one Marshall County native, William Robinson, had nothing but good things to say about his experience at the Marshall County Health Department.
“I’ve really been disappointed in our public health system, but Marshall County has changed my attitude,” Robinson said.
From the time he arrived to get his dose until he left the Marshall County Health Department, he said the process took little more than 15 minutes, which included time waiting after the shot to make sure he had no adverse reactions.
“It was as smooth as a greased wheel,” he said. “It was well, well organized.”
At 77 years old, Robinson admitted it doesn’t take much to get on his bad side, which is why he was doubly impressed by the Marshall County Health Department.
“They’re doing their job, and they’re doing a dog-gone good job,” he said.
McBurrnett agreed the health department and other providers in the area were handling the vaccine rollout very well, especially under the circumstances. According to ADPH.org, those currently eligible can make an appointment to receive a COVID vaccine at the following locations in Marshall County:
Marshall County Health Department, 150 Judy Smith Road in Guntersville
Marshall Medical Center North, 8000 Alabama Highway 69 in Guntersville
Marshall Medical Center South, 2505 U.S. Highway 431 in Boaz
Grant Family Practice, 5447 Main Street in Grant
Latham’s Pharmacy, 178 South Main Street in Arab
Mainstreet Family Care, 1420 North Brindlee Mountain Parkway in Arab
Bunch Pharmacy, 1800 Henry Street in Guntersville
Guntersville Family Practice Clinic, 1241 Blount Avenue in Guntersville
Lakeside Clinic, 2337 Homer Clayton Drive in Guntersville
Rapid Care Inc., 9511 U.S. Highway 431 in Albertville
Sand Mountain Family Practice, 5014 U.S. Highway 431 in Albertville
Clifton Care Inc., 122 North Snead Street in Boaz
Boaz Discount Drugs, 10460 Alabama Highway 168, Suite 1 in Boaz.