New US COVID variants increase pressure to vaccinate people

COVID: New variants put pressure on states to vaccinate people

(CNN) – Medical experts say seven new coronavirus variants have been identified here in the United States.

The new finding puts more pressure on states to get as many vaccine doses into people’s arms as soon as possible.

In Alabama, the state’s vaccination effort may be hitting its stride after initial struggles.

El Wanda and Rhonda Penn, 66-year-old twins, recently got their first COVID-19 shots.

The hard part for them was getting to this first-come, first-served mass vaccination center in Montgomery.

“It’s been a tough year because you don’t have a chance to deal with one death before you got another one,” El Wanda Penn said.

For weeks, the sisters tried to make a vaccination appointment.

Over the weekend, they drove from neighboring Wetumpka, waiting four hours in a massive drive-thru line.

“I have had some health issues,” said Rhonda Penn. “I wanted to take it so it wouldn’t interfere with the other problems I had.”

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Alabama has struggled. The state has often been at the bottom of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s per capita list for getting shots into arms.

But that status may be changing.

“We goaled every day for a thousand doses,” Christina Thornton, director of Montgomery City and County Emergency Management, said last week. “On Monday, we gave away 1,955. Yesterday, we gave away 1,500 and today, we’re goaling again for 1,500.”

Most of the vaccines at a Montgomery mass vaccination site come from the state.

Hundreds of more doses were kicked in by Baptist Health, with every dose going into arms.

In December, there were just 15, vaccination locations across the state.

Today there are 355 and state health officials say nearly 900 have been approved. But they’ll need more vaccines to make them operational.

The federal government is now pitching in, with 14,000 doses going to 22 Walmarts statewide.

“You have some people in our rural counties and rural towns that Walmart is their only access to be able to get this vaccine,” according to Hadley Goodwin, director of Walmart Market Health and Wellness.

With the state broadening eligibility to people over 65 and confidence growing in the safety of the vaccine, locations statewide are struggling to meet demand.

Alabama officials say the state has exhausted its allotment of first doses for February.

Right now, there are only second doses available through the state system.

But Walmart and other private providers still have some first and second doses available this month.

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