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Pima County residents ages 65 and over will be able to pre-register for COVID-19 vaccine appointments starting 9 a.m., Thursday, the Pima County Health Department announced Tuesday.

Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the announcement comes not because of increased vaccine availability, but to avoid confusion as the new state-run site at the University of Arizona provides vaccines to the 65+ population.

Garcia said the county health department was poised to make the decision to open vaccine appointments to the 65+ crowd next week, but accelerated the announcement so the county’s eligibility requirements will align with the state’s.

“We know that this is a complicated message because, on the one hand, I'm telling you that vaccine supply is restricted. On the other hand, I'm telling you that more people are going to be eligible for that restricted vaccine supply,” Garcia said. “One of the things that we are really, really working hard to mitigate against is the fact that with the opening of the state POD here at the University of Arizona, I am worried that people will start to get confused. And so rather than have different age eligibilities at different locations, we want to have uniform age eligibility across Pima County, even even if it poses some challenges for us.”

Vaccine registration opened to the 70+ population on Feb. 4, and Pima County has administered a total of 195,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to Arizona Department of Health Services data.

However, the county saw a decreased vaccine allotment this week that undercuts the demand for them. Some county PODs have cut back on their hours of operation and the number of doses they can supply.

“There is still a great deal of demand for appointments among those 70 and older and along with our partners, we are working hard to continue being efficient in getting every dose we can out to our community,” County Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said in a press release from the county. “Right now, the factor limiting our ability to continue expanding eligibility remains the supply of vaccine. We have enough resources to continue accelerating our delivery. We just have to have the vaccine to do it.”

Last week, the county's vaccine supply was decreased to 17,850—a 40% reduction from the previous week. This week, the doses were cut down to 16,300 doses of Moderna.

The state is now taking control of all Pfizer allocations, and according to Cullen, the county has to trust the state will provide them to facilities like Banner North and Tucson Medical Center, which have been using Pfizer vaccines and need them to provide second doses.

Cullen said the county has no insight into what the Pfizer allotment for this week was.

In addition to the 16,300 Moderna and an unknown number of Pfizer doses to be distributed across the county’s vaccination centers, the state allocated the new UA state-run POD 2,000 doses of Moderna.

Given the strained supply, it’s unclear how quickly shots will actually be available for the 65+ population.

“We are continuing to meet or exceed our goals for moving through the priority groups and look forward to having the state’s new site to help us keep up that pace,” Cullen said. “The 65 to 69 age group is going to be one of the biggest we have added thus far.”

To register, visit: www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or call 520-222-0119.