Maricopa County to begin phase 1B for COVID vaccinations next week

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Teachers, child care workers, law enforcement officers and select others in Maricopa County will be eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines on Monday.

Maricopa County announced on Wednesday that it will begin Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccination plan on Jan. 11. That means teachers and staff at K-12 schools, child care workers, law enforcement officers, other government-employed security officers and adults over 75 years of age will be prioritized. 

Other essential workers, a category that has yet to be determined by the county, and adults living in congregate settings, are also part of phase 1B. Those groups will be eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine after the initial priority groups.

Phase 1A of the state’s COVID vaccination plan covers health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, nursing homes and other similar facilities. Fields Moseley, a spokesman for the county, said Maricopa hit the halfway point in its vaccination of health care workers on Tuesday. Countywide, about 62,000 health care workers have received the first doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, and thousands more have appointments to receive a shot.

Health care workers and others in group 1A will still be given priority. Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the medical director for Maricopa County Public Health, said during a press briefing on Wednesday that most of Monday’s appointments for vaccines are already filled by health care workers, and some are preparing to receive the second dose.

But to ensure that the appointment times at the points of dispensing, often referred to as PODs, where the vaccines are administered, Sunenshine said the county is beginning phase 1B.

“We want to make sure we use every single appointment that is available, which is why we’re opening up into those 1B groups, to make sure that any times that are open between the first dose and the second get filled with people who are eligible for the vaccine,” Sunenshine said.

Moseley said there are about a half million people in the 1B group, and that it will take a while to get everyone vaccinated. Included in that group are 283,700 people aged 75 or older, 98,900 K-12 school employees and child care workers, and 18,700 law enforcement and protective services officers, according to Moseley.

The PODs were established specifically for health care workers, and Sunenshine said the model made the most sense to reach the maximum number of people possible at a time when the county wasn’t sure how many vaccine doses it would receive. The PODs also made sense for the Pfizer vaccine, Sunenshine said, which must be stored between 76 and 112 degrees below zero, and must be used within a short time frame after being removed from storage.

Now that it’s moving to the next phase of the plan, the county will open other vaccination sites. Sunenshine said that will include specialized clinics for school employees and child care workers.

“It will take a while to get to all of the different districts, but that is our plan moving forward,” Sunenshine said.

The county’s doses of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, which is much easier to store than the version made by Pfizer, are being prioritized for places like assisted living facilities. Once the county receives more doses of the Moderna vaccine, Sunenshine said they’ll be allocated to primary care providers.

Phase 1B also includes other essential workers, a broad, somewhat undefined group. Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order in March categories a wide variety of people as essential workers. Sunenshine said the county will use recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to determine who qualifies. Those recommendations include frontline employees who work for essential industries, organizations, government and who are at the most risk of contracting COVID-19.

Statewide, nearly 120,000 people had received COVID-19 vaccines in Arizona as of Wednesday morning, according to ADHS. Gila and Pinal counties have already begun phase 1B.

The Arizona Department of Health Services expects phase 1C to begin in late February or early March.

Jeremy Duda
Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”