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State now reporting over 20 cases of UK variant

According to a Monday update for the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), the COVID-19 variant first found in the U.K. – B117 – has now infected at least 22 people across the state.

The first cases of the variant were reported last week in eight Alabamians across five counties – it is now being reported in Autauga, Montgomery, Jefferson, Madison, Mobile, Elmore and Crenshaw counties.

“ADPH expects more cases of this highly-transmissible variant to be identified with our state,” the update from the department stated.

The department continued to emphasize that infectious disease experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expect that current COVID-19 vaccines will be effective against the variant, but warned that “is still being studied.”

“Currently, the B117 variant has not been definitely linked to worse outcomes of the disease,” the ADPH release stated. “As this variant is recent to the United States, it is important to follow the outcome of persons infected with this variant.”

The department is continuing to partner with private and commercial laboratories in an effort to sequence and detect the COVID strain and is urging the public to continue following public safety protocols as a means of stifling the variant’s spread.

As the nation topped 500,000 deaths due to COVID-19 this week, Alabama is reporting more than 487,500 cases of the disease, with just under 9,600 deaths and over 45,000 hospitalizations due to the disease.

But, after shipments of approximately 10,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were delayed throughout the state last week due to inclement weather, vaccination efforts are again ramping up – the ADPH expects about 90,000 doses of vaccine this week and has so far administered 78,331 doses of vaccine across the state.

“Even with weather delays, many county health department locations continued to operate over the weekend and will have extended hours this week to provide second doses,” the update said. “ADPH expects shipments to pick back up this week so vaccine clinics are gull operational.”

Though vaccination efforts will likely be bolstered by the coming approval of a new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the department expects to be approved shortly after a Feb. 26 meeting of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee, the ADPH noted the “difficult balance” being negotiated during the vaccination push.

“Public Health prioritizes some groups of people for COVID-19 vaccine based on the jobs they do and because we currently must ration this scarce resource,” the Monday release stated. “This is a difficult balance and it is not necessarily the most equitable vaccine distribution…Once more vaccine is available, we hope to offer vaccine to everyone who wishes to have it. We know there are concerns and appreciate everyone’s understanding and cooperation.”

According to the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic Dashboard – viewable online at arcgis.com – the next mass vaccination clinic hosted by Vaughan Regional Medical Center (VRMC) will take place Thursday, Feb. 25, at Bloch Park from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.