DCH Regional Medical Center transitioned to Phase 1b in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. Since then, DCH has ramped up its vaccination rates, administering 6,500 doses this week alone, and is setting a statewide model for managing an ever-increasing demand.

DCH was provided 3,000 doses for group 1a, which included enough vaccinations for hospital employees and internal and external local healthcare workers. Under this rollout, DCH was able to administer 700 doses per week. As of last week, the hospital had doubled its dose capacity at the external vaccination site to 1,400.

Andy North, Vice President of Marketing and Communication at DCH, said this was only possible after closing down their remote testing site and diverting all of their resources to delivering the vaccine.

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As the 1a rollout began to slow, the Alabama Department of Public Health reached out and asked DCH if it would volunteer to be one of eight sites across the state to provide over 1,000 doses per day. Once they agreed and opened up 5,000 available spots, it took only 24 hours for all the available slots to fill up.

"We have filled slots through March 20," North said. "Every slot is currently full, and I'm not sure when that sort of demand will trickle off. We hope that next week, we can open more slots, but I'm sure that will fill up quickly again."

North looked at this as a positive, with the community demand being an indicator for better things to come. As of last Friday, DCH had ministered 9,000 doses to date.

The weekend before the rollout of 1b, DCH separately vaccinated an additional 980 teachers. A majority of the 5,000 available doses during the week will be given to those in Phase 1c over the age of 65 that qualify for early rollout.

DCH will hold another "Educator Day" this Saturday, where they have an additional 500 doses scheduled to be administered. After this week, DCH is looking to expand its dosage count.

"We're the largest hospital within an hour's drive, so we serve not just Tuscaloosa county, we serve 10 counties surrounding. We've seen a lot of individuals from those areas sign up," North said.

North told The Tuscaloosa Thread that the biggest challenge they've faced is managing the extra volume of vaccine doses. Aside from diverting resources from the remote testing site to help with vaccine administering, DCH has also doubled how many cars it can serve at one time with the addition of another drive-through tent site.

"We've seen a lot of help from the community, retired nurses and part-time nurses volunteering, and spending extra hours to help vaccinate. It's great to see," North said.

According to the Alabama COVID-19 Tracker, since Jan. 11, the seven-day average for confirmed cases in the state has dropped by 65%.

For more information on vaccine availability in the coming weeks and months, stay with The Tuscaloosa Thread.

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