Brian Woodham

Across the country, people have been clamoring to get one of the hottest commodities in the world. And no, I'm not talking about the recently released PlayStation 5. I'm talking about the approved Covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna. 

The vaccines are literally saving lives and will hopefully help society return to some degree of normality over the course of the year. 

But the rollout of vaccine distribution has been, to put it nicely, full of problems. The supply, to no surprise, is extremely limited, with the federal government distributing doses to states, which then decide how to disperse them to their own populations.

In Alabama, front-line health care workers, nursing home workers and residents, first responders and those age 75 or older are currently eligible to receive the vaccine. Starting Monday, eligibility will be extended to people 65 and older and those people in "critical groups," including K-12 teachers. As of Tuesday, Alabama had received nearly 800,000 doses of the two approved vaccines, with about 374,000 administered. The ADPH says that the current vaccine supply doesn't even meet the current demand from health care workers, first responders, fire, police, and persons 75 and above.

With supply so scarce and demand so high and, clearly, not enough vaccine doses to go around to those who are at an elevated risk of serious illness or death, like those age 65 or older or people with comorbidities, it comes as a surprise that the Alabama Department of Public Health would permit Auburn University to have, in essence, its own private stash of vaccines, without any mandate to service the community at large.

Auburn University has its own phased approach to vaccinate its workers and students, with the general public being shut out from eligibility to sign up for a vaccine at the university's medical clinic. It amounts to a private stock not available to those who don't have the good fortune to work for the university. 

The opening this week of EAMC's new expanded vaccine clinic, which is expected to administer up to 1,000 shots a day, is a welcome development for the community, and East Alabama Medical Clinic and the cities of Auburn and Opelika deserve credit for pooling their resources and efforts to setting up the new clinic so quickly. But is diverting scarce vaccines for use by one entity the best way to make sure shots are getting into the arms of those most vulnerable in the Auburn community?

One Auburn University employee I know has already gotten their first dose of a vaccine despite being younger than 40 years old and having no comorbidities.  And this is before grocery store workers, who were hailed as frontline heroes during the early stages of the pandemic, are eligible for the vaccine (that occurs Monday).

The Auburn University employee I know got it apparently because they sometimes have to be on campus and can't consistently maintain physical distancing. Many Auburn University employees would fall under this umbrella in its Phase 1C, which has those two requirements to be eligible to receive the vaccine.

In a statement, Auburn University says that it "was approved to receive vaccine allotments by the ADPH to first provide inoculations to its faculty, staff and students before opening any subsequent doses to the community at large. Auburn continues working with the ADPH in further distribution of the vaccine as it is made available, and the university expects to eventually receive enough vaccines for the entire campus." 

Why should Auburn University be allowed to provide inoculations of such a scarce resource only to its "faculty, staff and students" and not provide access to the "community at large?" 

By allowing Auburn University to only care for its own, the ADPH has essentially created two classes of citizens in Lee County — those of us who must get in the line like everyone else and then those who have their own line because they work for or attend the university. Auburn University has received 7,000 doses so far, 5,317 of which have been administered, but none to the general public. In comparison, EAMC, which serves residents of Lee, Macon and Chambers counties, has administered 12,308 doses as of Tuesday. 

A requirement for vaccine eligibility should never be where you work. Ideally, the ADPH would work to ensure that all clinics, pharmacies, etc., that receive Alabama's limited supply of vaccines be open to all and serve the most at-risk in their communities. 

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