Friday, March 12, 2021
Three Arizona doctors warned today of the fatal consequences of loosening restrictions without first vaccinating the public.
Phoenix endocrinologist Dr. Ricardo Correa, Tucson family medicine specialist Dr. Cadey Harrel and Glendale obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Dionne Mills spoke out against loosening restrictions in Arizona.
“For the past year, too many people have struggled, sacrificed and died to get at this point in the pandemic,” said Correa. “We are close to eradicating COVID-19, but if you don't make the final effort, we are close to be back to where we were last year.”
Back-to-back executive orders on March 3 and March 5 by Gov. Doug Ducey, moved Arizona closer to reopening. The first mandated schools reopen by March 15 or after Spring Break. The second removed capacity limits on businesses and allowed spring training baseball and other professional and collegiate sports to operate after the approval of a safety and public health plan.
On March 3, the Arizona House passed bill, HB 2770 with a vote of 31-28, which asserts businesses are not required to enforce mask mandates from the state, a city, town or county or any other jurisdiction. The bill has now passed to the Senate for consideration.
Faced with these developments, Harrel urges Gov Ducey and Arizona legislators to “do the right thing and to listen to the science.”
Harrel, the CEO of Agave Community Health and Wellness, said that loosening restrictions should not occur until we have achieved herd immunity, or community immunity, which epidemiologists and health experts say occurs when 70-90 percent of the population is vaccinated and enough people have immunity to stop the spread of the COVID-19 within the general public.
As of March 12, little over 10 percent of Arizonans have been fully vaccinated, meaning they have received both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of the Janssen vaccine, and about 20 percent have received a single dose.
“The facts tell us again and again that until we achieve that 70% of vaccination rate in Arizona's population, that we need to continue to double mask, we need to continue to physically distance and we need to take every precaution necessary to prevent the spread and further unnecessary death in our community,” said Harrel.
For the week of Feb 21, Arizona is at 98 cases per 100,000, 6.5% of tests were positive and 3.5 % of reported hospital visits were for COVID-like illnesses.
Following the state’s lead, Pima County also expanded vaccination eligibility on March 12, allowing those 55 and up and frontline essential workers to sign up for a vaccination appointment.
With the metrics declining and vaccination efforts ramping up, public health experts in Arizona and Pima County determined it was possible to loosen restrictions while emphasizing the importance of mitigation efforts.
On March 11, Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen reminded the public to “remember the three W's, remember to wash, wear your mask and wait, make sure you have six feet between you and other people.”
She reported concern over about a 10 percent increase in hospitalizations and said four confirmed cases of the COVID-19 UK variant, B.1.1.7 were discovered through testing, suggesting the variant strain has been circulating in Pima County for about three weeks.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported 35 cases of the variant in Arizona.
With the variant appearing in Arizona, Harrel said most physicians saw the writing on the wall as restrictions were not enforced, enforced loosely or gradually rolled back.
“We could have told you months ago that we are waiting to see mutations of this virus,” sad Harrel
Further, Mills addresses loosening restrictions would disproportionately harm marginalized communities and essential workers, “individuals who are more likely to have chronic conditions more likely to work jobs that expose them to COVID-19, and less likely to have access to health care.”
She noted that Hispanics and Native Americans in Arizona are hospitalized and killed at higher rates than white people.
Data from the CDC has shown race and ethnic minorities are at higher risk of exposure and death due to COVID-19.
In order to push further vaccination, Correa emphasizes the need for education on vaccines to address vaccine hesitancy, especially among the more vulnerable communities.
Harrel, who participated in the trials for Moderna vaccine, said people should not hesitate to get the vaccine. While a year may seem like a short time to develop a working vaccine, the technology the vaccine was built was developed years ago in response to the SARS epidemic.
“The general public is seeing this brand new vaccine that really was just rolled out this year, but the actual research that laid the foundation for this vaccine to be developed is not new,” said Harrel. “The mRNA technology and nano protein technology has been very, very well studied and it just so happened that the coronavirus gave us a platform to really be able to test it out in larger scale studies.”
According to Mills, the vaccine has been vetted by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM). Both organizations released a joint statement on Jan 27, advocating pregnant women be granted access to both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Mills encourages anyone who is trying to conceive or may already be pregnant to be first in line.
“COVID-19 is devastating for pregnancies, devastating for pregnant women,” said Mills. “We lose more sleep about our pregnant patients having COVID than we are about them being vaccinated.”
Mills said they understand the economic challenges people face, as she sees it every day when a patient is not able to afford the medicine that they are prescribed.
“As somebody who's personally seen people die with COVID, and as for me seeing pregnant patients suffering with COVID, and dealing with those things, which nobody wants to have to see, we need our leaders to come out and with action show that they respect this virus and that they are going to do what needs to be done to get us through that last bit, that last stretch,” said Mills.