As Pima County continues to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations at five different distribution sites, it needs a lot more vaccine to adequately immunize the population.
The county usually receives about 12,500 doses per week but has been expecting larger allocations from the state to keep up with demand.
At a press conference Friday, Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the county is expecting 29,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses this week. Garcia contends the county’s current infrastructure can “easily handle” 100,000 vaccines a week.
As of Sunday, the county received107,000 doses and was allocated 136,100 from the state.
Pima County administered 71,890 total doses as of Sunday, for a vaccination rate of 6,882 per 100,000 of the population.
A total of 58,629 individuals received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, while 13,051 had received the two doses needed to be considered fully immunized.
While the Pima County Health Department maintains it has the necessary infrastructure to administer more than 775,000 doses by the end of March, according to its accelerated immunization plan, they don’t have enough vaccines.
Maricopa County has administered 210,732 doses of vaccine as of Sunday and plans to have two 24-hour vaccination sites, State Farm Stadium in Glendale, which opened on Jan. 11, and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, set to open Feb. 1.
Other Arizona counties, including Pima, are struggling with the demand for vaccines outstripping the depleted supply, and the allocation process, which is being created without transparency from the state.
“We are grateful, but I have to tell you that this is far insufficient for what we need. This is not nearly enough vaccination for us to be able to meet the needs of this county,” Garica said. “We continue to advocate every single day to the state health department, to the governor's office, to our congressional delegation, that the sole rate-limiting step in the equation at this time is vaccine supply, and that it is imperative that Pima County get its fair share. From my perspective, that should be about 15% of the state allocation, and we are short of that.”
If the county keeps receiving a depleted vaccine supply, Garcia warns resources may need to be taken from other areas, such as COVID-19 testing.
“I wish I could tell you that we have sufficient resources to do absolutely everything, but we do not. The federal and state government have a very important responsibility here that needs to be met,” he said. “We are still conducting a record number of tests for coronavirus. So we are literally walking and chewing gum at the same time. We have to keep these efforts going forward. However, it is really critical to also understand that if we do not get some relief from the federal government, if we do not get some relief and some assistance from the state, we may need to make some very hard choices in terms of vaccine versus testing.“
Pima County is in phase 1B priority of vaccinations, where educators, protective service workers and those over 75 are eligible, but the rate at which the group receives vaccines depends on how many doses the county receives from the state.
The next priority group will be those over 65, but Garcia says their eligibility is not yet on the horizon.
“To say that we're anywhere close to being done with 75-plusers would be irresponsible. Unless we get through the bulk of that 75+ population, I would not advocate for decreasing the eligibility for vaccination until we are through those priority populations,” Garcia said. “We have a ways to go before we start working our way down the rest of the list.”Dr. Theresa Cullen, the director of the Pima County Health Department, estimates the current eligible group is about 150,000 individuals. Those over 65 will be eligible after 70,000-80,000 members of the current group are immunized.
The 65+ population can register for vaccine appointments at Maricopa County’s two 24-hour sites, with the second one set to open at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Feb. 1.
In the meantime, the Pima County Health Department is asking for patience as it fights for a larger vaccine supply.
“I need to be getting, here in Pima County, about 100,000 vaccines a week. I am thankful to my state partners for giving us 29,000, which is twice as many as they give us a week before, but that is still woefully insufficient for the need that we have,” Garcia said. “It's the Hunger Games out there. A lot of people are really anxious to get vaccinated, and I get it, and I beg their patience. Because at the end of the day, it would be unethical for us to create appointments, to create schedules, when we don't have vaccine.”
Cullen said appointments are made based on vaccine availability, which is why many eligible recipients are struggling to receive a time slot at a vaccine site.
“The thing I need right now is patience. I know it's really, really difficult for many people right now to wait, especially because people are scared and they want to have access to the vaccine,” Cullen said. “We are pedaling as fast as we can.”
The 75+ population is encouraged to register for vaccines at Banner North, TMC or Kino Stadium. Educators should be vaccinated at the University of Arizona and protective service workers at the Tucson Convention Center.
Those who qualify in the priority 1B group can register for a vaccine at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.