The University of Arizona vaccine point of distribution is opening appointments daily, based on cancellations and capacity, university officials announced Tuesday morning.
“The real limitation was we couldn't get enough vaccines. So we didn't want to have a lot of people standing around, so we only increased our volunteers and our staffing commensurate with the amount of vaccines we could get,” said UA Task Force Director Dr. Richard Carmona. “If we can get more vaccines we can still search even more, hence the 1,000 or so appointments that are out there that are not filled.”
The state vaccination PODs, including the UA POD, expanded eligibility to anyone 16 and older two weeks ago, as they were seeing hundreds of appointments go unfilled. As they release appointments daily, the hope is that no appointments go unfilled, said Carmona.
“We're doing everything we can to use every single one of those vaccinations,” said Carmona. “We don't want to end the day with any vaccinations still in the freezer and not being used.”
The site is averaging about 400 to 500 appointments per day, but last Friday afternoon opened 1,500 appointments.
“That's because we could ramp up our capacity. Our capacity varies daily by the number of vaccinators and pharmacists we can get that actually show up and our number of volunteers,” said UA Vice President of Communications Holly Jensen. “The number of volunteers that it takes to get one person through is about 27 per person that comes through our POD. So all of these things play a huge role in the numbers we can push through every single day.”
UA President Robert C. Robbins said the university is in need of non-medical volunteers as the days grow hotter and volunteers tire out. To volunteer visit covid19.arizona.edu/vaccine and scroll down to “volunteer opportunities.”
In order to encourage vaccination amongst students, the university is offering students the opportunity to earn a $5 star reward at the Arizona Student Union or University of Arizona Bookstores. In order to claim the reward, a student would need to upload their vaccination card to Campus Health. After their final vaccine dose, they will see a green “vx” in their Wildcat OneStop. This also exempts students from weekly testing, which is currently required by the university.
Students and staff will also be exempt from testing required for graduation ceremonies, said Robbins.
“This is essentially a vaccine passport,” said Robbins. “If you're a student, you don't have to test and for upcoming events, we're going to be testing students and faculty members to go to commencement, if you've got that green check with ‘vx,’ you're good to go. So we're encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and to show it in your Wildcat Onestop.”
Robbins said they want everyone in the community vaccinated including international and out-of-state students, and encourages them to register for an appointment.
The UA POD has administered more than 133,551 vaccine doses as of Monday, April 5, with 22.3% self-identifying as Hispanic, reported Robbins. The county has vaccinated about 31.7% of the population.
As the vaccination effort continues, Robbins said they are seeing reasons for concern in the broader community as wastewater tests found higher concentrations of COVID-19 countywide.
The rate of transmission in Pima County, while still low, has gone up since last week from 0.77 to 1.07. ZIP code 85719, the area surrounding the university, increased to 1.11 from 0.77.
“We've gone up a little bit, but overall we're relatively stable in the county,” said Carmona. “We're happy that this shows that our public health best practices are working, but we crept up a little bit, and we're going to work harder to keep that down.”
With 9,337 tests administered on campus over the past 10 days since March 27, the university reports only 25 positive COVID-19 tests, for a 0.3% positivity rate.
Carmona also said they continue to monitor community resources, like availability of ventilators and beds.
“All of those have been stable or trending down over the last period, so we feel fairly comfortable, again not complacent,” said Carmona. “We're going to go forward, based on this information, based on the input of all of our scientists here at the university.”
The University of Arizona will allow guests to attend the in-person commencement events planned for May, Robbins announced during the Tuesday briefing.
However, Robbins said if public health conditions change, they would modify the ceremony plans as needed to minimize the risk, which could include revoking the guest policy or changing the event to a completely virtual experience.
“We're down to almost a month away, so we'll watch it very carefully and if things change, we will always have the default to go back to all virtual experience,” said Robbins.
They will be sending out an email for students to RSVP to the in-person event and will allow four guests per graduating student. While encouraging vaccination for all in attendance and testing non-exempt students and staff, Robbins said they will not be testing guests.
There are multiple events offered between May 11 and May 18. To see the full schedule of ceremonies visit commencement.arizona.edu.