As early as next week, the groups of essential workers and adults over 75 included in the next phase of Pima County’s vaccine distribution plan may have access to the COVID-19 vaccine, the Pima County Health Department announced at a press conference yesterday.
Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the county anticipates rolling out phase 1B of vaccinations at the end of next week.
Phase 1B includes the vaccination of prioritized essential workers in education and protective services, essential workers in fields like transportation and government, adults in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions and individuals over 75.
Those who qualify in phase 1B can pre-register here.
Every county in Arizona except Pinal and Gila is currently in phase 1A of the vaccination process, which includes healthcare workers, emergency medical service workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.
However, the health department warns there are “hundreds of thousands” of individuals encompassed in the 1B category, and estimate vaccinating the upcoming group could take until the end of March.
The health department is in the process of setting up distribution points for the vaccine and finding professionals who can administer them.
“That will take some significant effort and logistics. We're in the process of trying to stand up a variety of points of dispensing of PODs to do some of this,” Francisco said. “We're in the midst of engaging a lot of community health practitioners, whether it's the federally qualified community health centers or private practices, to also be folks who can deliver vaccine, especially to the 75-plus age group.”
While currently in phase 1A, Pima County has 10 points of distribution, or PODs, for the vaccine, including Banner Health and Tucson Medical Center. Other vaccine sites are focused on serving the staff they’re affiliated with, such as United Community Health Center and Marana Healthcare.
According to Francisco, the strategy for determining locations those in group 1B will be able to receive their vaccines is “still evolving.”
“Our goal here at the county is making sure that we have multiple entry points for folks who fit in any one of those five categories that are part of phase 1B to walk through. So it may be a worksite clinic, it may be a POD, like TMC or Banner, it may be their own individual doctor's office,” Francisco said. “Part of the strategy here is to have the greatest degree of flexibility that we can to serve the largest number of people. At the end of the day, I care more about the number of people vaccinated than about making sure that that we got every single person in the right line.”
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 119,653 vaccines have been administered in Arizona.
In Pima County, 22,224 vaccines have been administered. The county currently holds the highest vaccination rate in the state at 2,127 per 100,000 individuals.
According to the county health department, 65,000 doses have been allocated to Pima County as of Dec. 31, and 45,000 have actually arrived.
“It's wonderful that we have the highest vaccination rate in the state, but none of us should be happy with where we are right now. It's really critical that we accelerate our immunization process,” Public Health Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said. “I'm really grateful to Pima County that we are making this commitment to not only ensure that we have a higher rate than everybody else, but that isn't really what matters. What matters is that we get a significant number of our community vaccinated, and we have given ourselves a March 31 timeline to anticipate that we will have a significant number of people vaccinated by then.”
Cullen stressed the county has been in an accelerated phase of transmission of the virus for six to eight weeks, and hospitals continue to struggle with the surge of COVID-19 patients compromising their capacity and ability to provide care.
At one point yesterday morning, Cullen said only 3% of the county’s ICU and general hospital beds were available while 95 patients—60 with coronavirus— waited in emergency departments for admission.
“The bright spot here that I think is also important for us to share is that the goal of vaccinating a large proportion of our population is actually in hand, we are developing the very specific strategies that will allow us to get to that point...I really think that we're starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Francisco said. “But this is no time for us to loosen up on our mitigation measures. This is our opportunity to double down on them so that people will benefit from this.”