ADHS expanding vaccine pilot program aimed at low vaccination ZIP codes




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

The Arizona Department of Health Services is planning to expand a pilot program to get more vaccines for those living in ZIP codes with high numbers of COVID-19 cases but low vaccination rates, but inequities still exist. 

The first ZIP code targeted by the agency was 85009, where more than 30% of the population lives below the poverty level and over 8,000 cases have been reported thus far. Many of the hardest hit areas in Arizona have been areas with higher rates of poverty

ADHS’s program aims to use social media and other messaging to reach specific communities, specifically Hispanic communities. The agency also will make phone calls to set up appointments, go door-to-door to find unvaccinated people and provide taxis to provide transportation to state-run vaccine sites.

ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ said March 12 that some of those areas being targeted include ZIP codes in Yuma, Tucson, Mesa and Phoenix. 

Christ said the agency is also planning to have canvassers in the communities encouraging vaccinations, attending church events and meeting with local leaders, visiting senior affordable housing and other areas to assist with vaccine registration. The agency is also planning to offer information in English and Spanish. 

In west Phoenix’s 85037 ZIP code, there have been over 8,000 confirmed COVID cases and about 5,000 people have been vaccinated, per ADHS data. The area is majority Hispanic and has received fewer vaccinations compared to its neighboring ZIP codes. 

In one of its neighboring ZIP codes, 85395, more than 11,000 people have been vaccinated. The majority of the population in 85395 is white, and less than 8% of the population lives below the poverty level, far below the state’s average.  

According to Maricopa County vaccine data, 85307 has roughly 28% of its eligible population vaccinated while 85395 has 53% of its population vaccinated. 

Similar trends can be found in other affluent ZIP codes where case counts were lower than in neighboring poorer ZIP codes. Arizona is not alone, either:Other states have seen a similar pattern, with richer communities getting vaccinated with more ease compared to areas where poverty is more prevalent. 

The 85044 ZIP code, which has 7% of its population below the poverty level, has seen roughly 3,000 cases but has received over 8,000 vaccinations, according to ADHS data. It borders the 85035 ZIP code, which has had more than 8,000 cases and has nearly a quarter of its residents living in poverty, but has seen just 2,000 doses of the vaccine and only 23% of its population vaccinated. 

Those who are in poverty are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, according to researchers at the National Institute of Health.  

“[P]eople of low SES (socio-economic standings) present to healthcare services at a more advanced stage of illness, resulting in poorer health outcomes,” researchers concluded. “This will likely lead to poorer health outcomes from COVID-19 for economically disadvantaged people.”

They also noted that many people who live in poverty tend to have restricted access to health care. Almost 40% of Arizonans currently live in a health care provider shortage area. 

“Finally, there is emerging evidence that hypertension and diabetes are risk factors for death from COVID-19,” researchers said. “This is notable, because poverty is itself a risk factor for these conditions, with the Marmot Review showing that it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension, suggesting people of low SES have an increased susceptibility to COVID-19 mortality.”

Arizona reported 638 new cases of COVID and no new deaths Monday. There have been more than 833,000 cases of COVID since the pandemic began and over 16,500 Arizonans have lost their lives, per ADHS data.