The University of Arizona has delivered 9,866 COVID-19 vaccines at a rate of 800 shots per day, according to President Dr. Robert C. Robbins.
The UA point of distribution, or POD, is targeted toward educators and childcare providers and has two vaccination sites: a drive-through location at the University of Arizona Mall and a walk-through clinic at the Ina E. Gittings building.
While operating as a vaccine distribution center, UA is basing its learning structures for students on the prevalence of coronavirus in the community.
Robbins lauded the state for its improvement in COVID-19 transmission. While Arizona held the highest rate of transmission in the country throughout most of January, it now ranks at No. 8 today.
If conditions continue to improve, the university will enter stage two of its reentry plan on Feb. 22 with up to 50 students attending classes in person. For now, it remains in stage one with in-person instruction for essential courses only.
From Jan. 28 to Feb. 6, UA administered 18,767 COVID-19 tests and found 127 positive cases for a positivity rating of 0.7%, down from last week’s percent positivity of 1.3%.
“Remember, we've tried to shoot for under 5%, and we've been significantly under 5% for a long time now. This last number is very, very encouraging,” Robbins said. “These are good signs, however, remain vigilant, continue to cover your face, wash your hands and keep distance from as many people as possible.”
The university began the semester requiring on-campus dorm residents to take two COVID-19 tests a week with at least 48 hours between tests. Due to improving COVID-19 data, dorm residents or students who attend classes in-person will only have to take one test a week, Robbins announced.
To enforce the testing requirement, university students won’t be able to access the school’s Wi-Fi network until they’ve verified they received a COVID-19 test.
The university’s CART team, a collaboration with the UA and Tucson police departments that looks for noncompliance to COVID-19 precautions, found 12 total incidents the week of Feb. 1. They responded to six events with under 20 attendees, one event with 20-49 people and five events with an unknown number of participants.
“The people that are demonstrated in these numbers here are people that are taking risks, not only to themselves, but they're becoming potential vectors of disease. 40 or 50% of people carry this virus and don't know it,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, UA’s reentry task force director and former U.S. surgeon general. “You may feel well, but you may be spreading it to others. So it's extraordinarily important that you keep that social distance, stay away from big groups, until such time that we can do that safely again.”
UA Immunobiologist discusses coronavirus variants
UA Immunobiologist Deepta Bhattacharya joined the university’s press conference today to discuss the efficacy of the current COVID-19 vaccines against growing mutations of COVID-19 throughout the country.
Coronavirus variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil have been discovered in the U.S. In Arizona, at least three test samples have come back positive for the presence of the UK variant, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Bhattacharya also discussed a new variant identified in California.
"Overall, there's only been one person in any of these trials that have been reported that has had severe disease," UA Immunobiologist Deepta Bhattacharya said at a press conference on Feb. 8. "There's been only one person that's had to go to the hospital, there's been no deaths so far. We're reasonably confident that even if there is a hit to vaccine efficacy against some of these other variants, the overall efficacy against preventing severe disease is going to be much better."
The immunobiologist said the UK variant, or the B.1.1.7 virus, is of the greatest concern. While all the mutated viruses have a probable chance of increased transmissibility, the UK virus has a 20-50% greater likelihood of transmitting.
Bhattacharya said the UK virus could become the dominant variant in the coming months.
“The key is to actually make sure that the total number of cases is low enough so that even if it does become the dominant variant, it doesn't cause the levels of problems that it has in the United Kingdom and in Israel,” Bhattacharya said.
The variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, known as B.1.351 and P.1 respectively, have mutated similarly in terms of their spike proteins, which allow the virus to infect the body’s host cells. Bhattacharya said these variants aren’t yet prevalent in the U.S.
The California variant, called B.1.427/1.429, is widely circulating in the Los Angeles area.
Current COVID-19 vaccines has differing levels of effectiveness against the variant strains.
In early studies, the vaccines are showing promising protection against the UK variant, Bhattacharya said.
The variants from South Africa and Brazil, however, only show partial effectiveness against the vaccines, while the immunity vaccines provide against the California variant is still unknown.
The immunobiologist said the South African variant is showing a nearly six-fold loss against the protective antibodies the vaccines provide.
“This is just a little bit of evidence that we're going to need some things besides just the vaccines to keep the virus under control,” Bhattacharya said.
However, current vaccines show protection against severe COVID-19 cases.
"Overall, there's only been one person in any of these trials that have been reported that has had severe disease," Bhattacharya said. "There's been only one person that's had to go to the hospital, there's been no deaths so far. We're reasonably confident that even if there is a hit to vaccine efficacy against some of these other variants, the overall efficacy against preventing severe disease is going to be much better."
Despite the presence of the variants, Bhattacharya stresses the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine to prevent transmission and acute coronavirus cases.
"As far as we can tell, all of [the vaccines] do quite well at keeping you out of the hospital, which is, again, the biggest thing,” he said. “We all get respiratory infections, we all get colds, it's not that big of a deal. If we can convert it into that—and as far as we can tell, the vaccines are all doing a pretty good job of that—then, really, that's the most important thing. So get it as soon as you can, get it as soon as it's your turn in line.”