Which ‘essential workers’ will be eligible for the next round of vaccines?




Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce | Virginia Mercury/States Newsroom

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues in Arizona, thousands in the state’s two biggest counties are waiting for the next phase of vaccination to open up to a group largely known as essential workers.

Because vaccine supply is limited, the state is vaccinating in phases giving priority to groups that are most at-risk. As of Thursday, 811,023 people in Arizona have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

On Feb. 15, Maricopa County will open vaccination to adults 65 and older as part of Phase 1B priority. That means that adults of that age group in all but three of the state’s 15 counties are eligible to get the vaccine. This week, Pima County expanded its 1B Priority category to adults 70 and older. 

The next phase is known as the 1B category, which includes workers in critical industries and essential services; adults with high-risk conditions living in congregate settings; and — in Pima, Santa Cruz, and Mohave counties — adults over 65. 

Who exactly is considered an essential worker will depend on the county. The state’s vaccination plan allows counties to implement their own sub-prioritization as needed for their jurisdiction.

Generally, the state’s COVID vaccination plan put out recommendations based on federal guidelines and a March 2020 executive order meant to “ensure the continuity of operations” and keep essential services open as other industries closed down during the onset of the pandemic.  

So far, according to information posted online by the state and Maricopa and Pima counties, these groups are part of the “essential worker” category under the Phase 1b of vaccine distribution:

  • Food- and agriculture-related occupations
  • Transit workers
  • United postal service workers

Under the state plan, these are other examples of essential workers include: power and utility workers; transportation and material moving occupations like public transportation providers, airlines, gas stations, auto shop workers, and other transportation network providers; state and local government workers that provide critical services for continuity of government; and workers in the business and financial services industry, supply chain for critical goods, and funeral services. But, this list is not exhaustive. The federal guidance on critical workforce industries is 16 pages long, and includes workers in banks, call centers, laundromats, software engineers, weather forecasters and clergy. 

Maricopa County estimates that its 1B population (including the prioritized groups) includes about 642,000 people. Pima County estimates that approximately 674,000 people are eligible for vaccination in Phase 1B.

Maricopa County Public Health still hasn’t made a final decision on who the Phase 1B roll-out will include, but the county said it will partner with employers of essential services.  

“Similar to 1B Priority partnering with school districts, as we move forward into additional 1B populations, we will partner with major employers to vaccinate eligible populations,” said county spokesman Ron Coleman in an email.

For the past several weeks, the Arizona Department of Health Services has an online registration form available for employers of Phase 1B essential workers “for consideration to receive COVID-19 vaccine when available.” The form is called, “Essential Employer COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Information Form.”

ADHS spokeswoman Holly Poynter explained the form is not required, but it serves as a way for employers to request vaccine allocation for their workforce, she said. 

“This form is intended for employers of Phase 1B essential workers to attest that they meet the prioritization criteria,” Poynter said in an email. “In order to be considered for a vaccine allocation during Phase 1B when vaccine is available, employers are encouraged to share their vaccination plans including how many essential employees require vaccination. 

While the form is not required, it allows ADHS to gather information to share with local jurisdictions as they make plans to vaccinate additional priority groups in their population. Responses from this form are shared with local jurisdictions for their planning purposes.”

Laura Gómez
Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for Spanish-language news and feature reporting. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.