State Plans 24-hour Vaccine Site in Pima County

After some communication troubles between Pima County and the state, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ said plans are the works to set up a 24-hour vaccination site in the county.

Although County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has requested the state’s help in setting up a 24-hour point of distribution site at Rillito Park, it’s not clear where the state-run site would be set up.

Christ wrote in a letter to Huckelberry on Jan. 29 that “ADHS will work with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) to select the vaccination site and discuss logistics.”

If the state sets up the POD, the vaccines supplying it would be taken out of Pima County’s total state allocation.

As of Tuesday, the state’s allocated Pima County 165,950 doses, and the county has administered 119,585 vaccines.

“Any remaining doses of vaccine will be passed on to the county for further allocation. We will notify the Pima County Health Department once details are finalized,” Christ wrote in the letter.

Huckelberry responded to the letter on Monday requesting the state follow Pima County’s accelerated vaccination plan to ensure those most vulnerable to COVID-19 receive vaccines first and that “disadvantaged populations” have equal access to vaccinations.

In her letter to the county administrator, Christ said vaccine providers that had over 40% of their doses remaining as of Jan. 25 were not eligible for additional vaccine allocations, per Gov. Doug Ducey’s Jan. 26 executive order.

The order states: “Counties that have 40 percent or more of the total doses allocated to their jurisdiction remaining will not receive additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine until 80 percent of their current inventory is utilized.”

However, Huckelberry said the county health department wasn’t informed on the state’s methodology in calculating vaccine utilization and was unable to gauge what percentage of allocated doses each vaccine facility used.

While Pima County has used 71% of their current vaccine supply, the county administrator said one county POD previously received a notification from the state that they had used less than 40% of their supply without information on how the rate was calculated.

Huckelberry said the notice was retracted by the state but asked Christ for more clarification going forward.

“To help assist our PODs, we would ask to understand the calculation methodology, have a preview of the messaging to our partners who receive allocations as well as be invited to any meetings that involve these partners,” he wrote. “We understand these are all startup irregularities. You can be assured that we are using our vaccine when supplied efficiently and effectively.”

Pima County needs more vaccine supply

As Pima County struggles to vaccinate nearly the 150,000 residents currently eligible—the 75+ population, educators, childcare providers and protective service workers—it’s unclear if a state-run site would help or hinder the county by taking vaccine allocation away from it.

Maricopa County currently has two 24-hour state-run PODs, one at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale that opened on Jan. 11 and a second at the Phoenix Municipal Stadium on that opened Monday.

The state has allocated the two PODs 200,850 vaccines on top of the 461,375 doses allocated to Maricopa County itself.

As of today, the 24-hour PODs have administered 123,242 vaccines while Maricopa has administered 304,264.

The two PODs alone have received nearly 35,000 doses more than the entirety of Pima County.

In order to open Rillito Park, Pima County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said the county would need more staffing, vaccine stock and supplies.

“Realize that we're not gonna sit on our hands,” Garica said. “If we have vaccine stock, we will put it into people's hands. We will figure out the finances, we will figure out the staffing. At the end of the day, it's all about vaccine stock.”

State and county clash over miscommunication

On Jan. 26, Huckelberry wrote a letter to Christ asking for state aid to create a POD at Rillito Park, adding the location could provide up to 5,000 vaccinations a day if operated 24/7.

Although five vaccination PODS (points of distribution) are currently active, the county’s accelerated vaccination plan foresaw the opening of the sixth POD at Rillito Park on Feb. 5. However, the county doesn’t have enough vaccines or staffing to run it.

In a press conference on Jan. 22, Christ suggested Pima County denied the state’s help in setting up a state-run POD, but added, “that is always something that we are welcome to offer as we get additional vaccine in the state.”

Huckelberry contends the county never denied such an offer, but Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said she believes a passing comment she made created the miscommunication.

“I think it's something that I stated that made the state believe we didn't want a POD,” Cullen explained. “I was asked at one point whether we wanted a POD, and it was at that moment I said we're in the process of standing up five. We have enough vaccine for five, when we've done this five, let's re-talk.”

In her letter to the county administrator, Christ confirmed it was an email from Cullen that lead the state to believe Pima County wasn’t interested in a state-run POD.

Christ quotes an email she says she received from Cullen on Dec. 17 :

“We were made aware of the proposed Wells Fargo Stadium [State Farm Stadium] large vaccine site in Maricopa. I want to make sure that there are not plans like this for Pima—we are standing up an additional four pod[s],” Christ quoted of Cullen’s email. “We want to make sure that we are not in a situation where you think that we will need another large POD in Pima."

However, the email was sent when Pima County was setting up its first phase of vaccination rollout for healthcare workers.

“At that time, we had adequate local vaccination centers for that population. With the eligibility of the 1B population, we would now like to add to our vaccination capacity, particularly as more vaccine becomes available,” Huckelberry wrote in response to the letter. “Last Friday, we administered 6,600 vaccinations, at this rate we will quickly exceed our weekly allocation.”

Despite the miscommunication, Christ said the state anticipates setting up a state-run vaccination site in Pima County that would be operated 24/7. The state has yet to sort out the details of when and where the site would be set up, however.