Less than 20% of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination doses have been distributed as the year comes to a close, a problem that Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services are looking to remedy with more of a statewide approach.
According to the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, the state has received about 314,000 vaccine doses, all of which will be used as first doses for people in the initial phase of Arizona’s vaccination plan. But only 57,000 doses have been administered so far.
Nationally, only 2.5 million of 12.4 million doses have been administered, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Arizona has avoided many of the problems that other states have experienced in distributing their COVID vaccines, Ducey said in a press statement. But there have still been delays, which Ducey said is unacceptable.
Ducey and Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, are looking to streamline the process with more of a top-down approach from the state, rather than the mostly county-by-county system that’s been in place since vaccines first became available in mid-December.
The governor issued an executive order Wednesday establishing a state-directed allocation system for vaccine doses. Under the order, ADHS can reallocate vaccines wherever it sees a need. The agency will have more control over the establishment of private vaccination sites. And county health departments will have to prominently display vaccination data on their websites.
“Any delay in the vaccine getting to Arizonans, any dose that sits in a freezer rather than reaching the arm of a health care worker or long-term care resident, carries too great a cost. This is a health emergency, and we need all levels of government and our health system operating as such. Vaccines don’t do any good sitting in a freezer,” Ducey said in a press statement announcing his executive order.
Christ said things have picked up over the past week. Long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities and similar sites that are part of the initial phase of the state’s vaccination plan got their first doses last week. The delay allowed providers to focus on vaccinating health care workers, who go through screening to verify that they’re eligible, but kept the total numbers low.
Now that those facilities have received their vaccines, Christ said she expected vaccination numbers to pick up next week. As part of a partnership with the CDC, drugstore chains CVS and Walgreens began vaccinations at places like skilled nursing facilities this week.
Rural counties also got their first doses of the vaccines last week, which Christ said will increase the total number of people vaccinated.
Christ denied that the state wasn’t prepared for vaccinations to begin earlier in the month. But, like officials in other states, they’re still learning and are figuring things out as they proceed.
“We do vaccination all the time, but this is a vaccination of the entire population. So while the vaccine is still coming in and limited, it is going to seem like it’s moving very, very slowly,” Christ said. “What you will see this coming week is a large increase in vaccinations.”
Maricopa County also expects to increase the pace of vaccinations soon.
Marcy Flanagan, executive director of Maricopa County Public Health, told reporters at a press event at Chandler-Gilbert Community College on Wednesday that the county expects to dispense 50,000 vaccines by Sunday across five “points of dispensing” which they refer to as PODs.
Across the five PODs that will be in operation they plan to have 6,850 appointments per day.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve had issues,” Flanagan said when asked about how the vaccine rollout has gone so far for the county, adding that no other county has the same size population and that Maricopa has to vet those who are applying for the first phase of vaccines to ensure they qualify.
“Last week there were bumps in the road and we figured it out,” Flanagan said. “We were fixing things as we went along.”
Initially Maricopa County had issues with its internal system talking with ADHS’s systems, Flanagan said, but those bumps have smoothed out, she said.
Though she expects things to improve starting next week, Christ said more needs to be done, including more direction from the state.
County health departments know their communities best and need to have a say in how vaccines are allocated, the director said. But other entities that operate across county lines, such as CVS and Walgreens, need direct vaccine allocations from the state.
“There is a need for a statewide approach,” Christ said during a virtual briefing with reporters on Wednesday. “We will be engaging those statewide partners and making it more consistent across the state on how people find out how to get vaccinated, where to get vaccinated and when to get vaccinated.”
Furthermore, Christ said more vaccination sites are needed. More than 70 vaccination sites are up and running statewide, Christ said, and 650 providers have been approved to administer the vaccine once more doses become available. And in addition to the drugstores and vaccination sites that counties like Maricopa and Pima have opened, Christ said people will be able to get their shots through mobile clinics, rapid response teams and vaccination sites for large employers.
Arizona is still in phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which covers health care workers and residents of long-term care and similar facilities. Christ said she expects phase 1B, which includes high-risk adults, people over age 75 years and essential employees, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers and child care workers, to begin in mid-to-late January.
Once phase 1B begins, Christ said the state will take the lead in disseminating information so people know when and how to get their vaccinations.