The CDC has approved children age 12-17 to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine starting Thursday, May 13. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, a Parent or Legal Guardian can take their child to any State-run COVID-19 Vaccine site during their hours of operation and the shot will be given. There is no appointment or student ID required. Parents and legal guardians will need to sign a consent form in person and attest to the fact that the child is at least 12 years of age.
Dr. Cecilia Rosales, Associate Dean in the Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, joined the University Status Update with President Robbins and Richard Carmona to discuss the University’s Mobile Health Unit program, which she founded. This year, the program has added COVID-19 vaccination to its usual offerings of primary care and other health services. An incredible service that advances our land-grant mission, Dr. Rosales’ team is working with partners in Maricopa County and throughout Southern Arizona to offer vaccination to rural areas, communities of color, and other underserved populations.
"Early on in the COVID pandemic it became evident that communities of color and the hard-to- reach populations were disproportionately and adversely affected by this pandemic in terms of transmission (and) in terms of hospitalizations, morbidity and mortality," Rosales said.
Those populations also were less likely to get tested and vaccinated, and the mobile health units were deployed to help address those disparities, Rosales said. The university initiative has delivered vaccinations to thousands of individuals in underserved areas, including farm workers, truck drivers, Spanish-speakers and homeless populations.
"We're a global community," Rosales said. "And we have to think about everybody – not just within our own little hub."
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By Rick Ruggles firstname.lastname@example.org | May 1, 2021
Reams of evidence and data show coronavirus shots work well and come with minimal risk, public health officials say.
And yet a backdraft of skepticism persists.
Thousands of New Mexico residents still haven’t registered to obtain coronavirus shots, though the state is among the leaders in the country in the percentage of those who have acquired them.
Despite the apparent success vaccines have had in bringing down infection rates, shots, coronavirus tests and masks remain sticky subjects for some in New Mexico and nationwide.
A Santa Fe attorney who represents clients opposing mandatory shots and other coronavirus-related directives said she is convinced the vaccines harm people and that the pandemic has been overblown by authorities and the media.
N. Ana Garner doesn’t express doubt. She expresses certainty.
“No, it’s not conspiracy mongering at all,” said Garner, who opposes coronavirus-fighting tactics for many reasons, including her contention that individual rights are being trampled.
The vaccines have been rushed to the public without animal testing, she said. She noted vaccines continue to be deployed under federal “emergency use authorization.”
“I would never take an experimental product into my body,” she said. “People should not think that an experimental product is automatically safe.”
Others who say they won’t get the vaccine or have reservations aren’t as strident as Garner but offer arguments that touch on the same concerns.
Among Garner’s clients are New Mexico residents who have sued the state over public health orders. Another sued Doña Ana County over being required to get the vaccinations to keep working at the detention center there. And more lawsuits are coming, she said.
Garner called Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a liar. She said she has experts, evidence, science and research on which she bases her opinion.
“There’s no pandemic,” she said. “It’s a big, fat lie.”
A University of Arizona professor of public health chuckled as he considered some of those arguments. Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the university’s Center for Rural Health, said the vaccines are effective and carry little risk.
“Those are the facts,” Derksen said. “They’re indisputable.”
The data comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other organizations and expert-reviewed medical journals, he said, such as the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Derksen said the numbers are convincing. Some 32 million Americans have contracted the disease and more than 570,000 have died from it, according to federal statistics. About 235 million vaccinations have been administered in the United States alone.
“The science of diagnosis and monitoring has evolved quickly,” he said. “This has been a devastating infectious disease.”
A Santa Fe physician said that with more than 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines given worldwide, the ability to observe and research their effects has been unmatched in the history of vaccines.
“We are tracking this like we have never tracked anything before,” said Dr. Wendy Johnson, chief medical officer at La Familia Medical Center. “Every country around the world is studying this.”
For her part, Garner said the pandemic is “about as bad as a bad flu season.” The inaccuracy of coronavirus testing has helped boost the numbers, she said. And people who have died in hospitals with traumatic injuries and other problems have been counted among coronavirus deaths, she said, because they tested positive for the disease.
Derksen estimated the coronavirus is 10 to 20 times more deadly than the flu. Roughly 20,000 to 40,000 Americans die annually from the flu, he said, and the American death count attributable to the coronavirus is about 575,000 over somewhat more than a year.
Garner pointed to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a federal program in which doctors, patients and family members can report reactions to vaccines. The CDC said the reporting system found 3,848 deaths following coronavirus vaccinations as of April 26.
“People are being killed with this stuff,” Garner said. “They are being harmed with this stuff.”
The VAERS website says self-reported descriptions vary in quality and completeness and don’t show that the vaccine caused the deaths or side effects — only that they came sometime after the vaccination.
The CDC said: “A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccinations contributed to patient deaths.” The CDC says coronavirus vaccines are safe and achieve the objective of diminishing the disease.
Johnson said the CDC and others “are analyzing all this data on literally a daily basis and have not seen higher mortality rates associated with those who get the vaccine.”
The Lancet in Britain recently published a study of 627,383 people vaccinated against the coronavirus and found headache and fatigue to be the main side effects. No deaths were mentioned.
A statement last week from the state Department of Health said the reluctance of some to be vaccinated is understandable considering “all the noise, myths, misinformation and outright lies about this and any other vaccine seen regularly on social media.”
To some degree, the vaccination program has become a political issue. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that as of March, 79 percent of Democrats had either gotten the vaccinations or wanted to as soon as possible. But only 46 percent of Republicans responded that way.
Bob Graham of Santa Fe, a leader of the New Mexico Republican Party, said he blamed both political parties for a “great divide” over the matter.
“It’s unfortunate it’s become” a political issue, he said. “It shouldn’t be.”
The two parties should work together to find best practices, he said, but instead are intent on pursuing different agendas.
Graham, 68, said he hasn’t gotten his coronavirus vaccinations and hasn’t decided if he will. He said he feels “nonchalant” about it and in no rush.
“This is an issue of health and individuals’ choices,” he said. “I’m not overly concerned about it.”
A 30-year-old Albuquerque man who declined to be named because he said it could jeopardize his job mentioned several reasons for declining the vaccinations.
“It’s not that I’m against the vaccination,” he said. “I’m against being told I have to get it.”
He also said he is healthy and that he would worry the vaccine might cause severe effects years from now.
“It’s just really new,” he said. “The information keeps changing.”
He noted the science has morphed on how long the droplets on a surface might retain the virus and how close one must be to contract it from another person.
“We hear new stuff every other day,” he said.
Anthony Martinez, a 52-year-old student and employee at Santa Fe Community College, said he wears two masks but isn’t convinced that getting the shots is a good idea. The one time he got a flu shot, he said, “I was sick for three-and-a-half months.”
He also said he has no confidence that the coronavirus vaccinations will protect him. “If the strain changes, then the shot needs to change with it,” said Martinez, who doesn’t align with either party. “Will I take the shot in the future? It’s probably going to have to be a mandate.”
Mutations and variants of the coronavirus worry doctors and scientists as well. Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the state Human Services Department, said recently that variants are “an important phenomenon” to track.
“There’s a lot of concern about variants,” he said.
Louise Lasley, a 74-year-old Santa Fe resident who recently received her second shot, said it’s baffling that a segment of society takes the word of dubious sources over that of public health administrators. “I find that so hard to get my head around,” she said.
Lasley, a retired geologist and public lands official, said you can always dig around and find sources that confirm your biases. “They’re out there, I’m sure, for everything,” she said.
She expressed relief that she is fully vaccinated now. She still wears a mask to be cautious.
KOLD NEWS 13 | By Megan McNeil | Apr. 29, 2021
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Health and Human Services released new guidance, making it easier for more medical professionals to prescribe a common medication to treat opioid abuse.
More than 90,000 drug overdose deaths likely happened in the U.S. during the 12 months leading up to September 2020 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the highest number ever recorded in a 12-month period.
The Trump administration eased regulations during the pandemic for more access, and in December 2020, the CDC issued a health advisory regarding overdoses—telling health providers to increase access to addiction services.
Dr. Beth Meyerson, research professor at the University of Arizona, studies how these temporary and new regulations impact the opioid crisis, in hopes some could become permanent.
“Our federal and state policy partners will want evidence of the impact of these policies, so they can say ‘well moving in this direction is good,’” said Dr. Meyerson.
To further expand access, HHS under the Biden administration is taking away some of the barriers to prescribing treatment for opioid abuse — buprenorphine. Along the lines of methadone, it helps curb drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The Trump administration had a similar policy in January that was put on hold during the change in administration, then expanded.
“It seems like less than a fifth of people with opioid use disorder are on methadone or buprenorphine or have access to it,” said Dr. Melody Glenn, assistant professor, University of Arizona College of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
Before physicians would have to take an eight-hour course and other advanced practice providers, like nurse practitioners or physician assistants, would have to take a 24-hour course to prescribe buprenorphine, then apply for a waiver from the DEA. The new guidance removes the need for the courses.
“When you look at that requirement in comparison to what we need to prescribe oxycodone or vincodine or percocets, these arguably more dangerous medications that do cause overdoses, we don’t need any kind of special training to prescribe those,” Glenn said.
This opens the door for more prescribers, which are greatly needed.
As of March 2021, according to Dr. Benjamin Robert Brady, a researcher with the University of Arizona, a little more than 2,300 providers had received their waivers to administer buprenorphine in Arizona. About 370 of those were in Pima County, with most being in Tucson. Yuma, Sierra Vista and Nogales all had under 20 providers who could prescribe buprenorphine.
Brady said the general amount of providers with the correct waivers is increasing, but it is worth noting not every provider who can prescribe this, is doing so. From January 2020 to March 2021, the number of Arizona providers with a DEA waiver increased from 2,139 to 2,320, an 8.5% increase. The increase is representative of national trends as well.
“The advent of buprenorphine and the ability to prescribe medication for opioid use disorder in office-based settings has increased potential access to OUD (Opioid Use Disorder) treatment in rural and underserved communities. Having a DEA waiver only represents “potential access” because having a wavier doesn’t mean a provider is actively treating patients with OUD,” Brady wrote in an email.
Experts agree the new policy is a great start, but more needs to be done. The new recommendations from HHS also caps providers to treating only 30 patients at a time, which was in place before too.
“I believe this policy change will further increase the number of providers who will request and receive a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine,” Brady said. “I would not be surprised if this becomes an expected standard of medical programs, to encourage graduates to submit a notice of intent to SAMHSA requesting a DEA waiver.”
The deadline to submit applications for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program is extended until Thursday, May 27 at 7:30pm ET. We are excited to award a record number of clinicians this year thanks to additional funding through the Biden Administration's American Rescue Plan. Don't wait - apply today!
Get specific details on eligibility and how to apply on the NHSC website.
» Apply here.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has opened the 2021 Nurse Corps Scholarship Program (SP) application cycle.
Nurse Corps SP provides financial support to students enrolled in nursing degree programs in exchange for a commitment to serve in high-need areas across the country. Scholarship support includes payment of tuition, required fees, other reasonable educational costs, as well as a monthly living stipend. After graduation, scholarship recipients fulfill their service commitment at an approved health care facility with a critical shortage of nurses.
HRSA has received a historic increase in funding this year under the American Rescue Plan. With this additional funding, Nurse Corps anticipates making significantly more awards overall, including in the following areas:
- Up to 20 percent of total awards to nurse practitioners (NP) specializing in psychiatric mental health
- Up to $5 million to women’s health NPs and certified nurse midwife advanced practice nurses and registered nurses (RNs) who wish to pursue a career in women’s health
- Up to $2 million for career pathway/entry-level health professionals such as certified nursing assistants, home health aides, medical assistants, and licensed practical (vocational) nurses seeking degrees to become RNs
Before applying, review the Application and Program Guidance (APG) for information on eligibility and requirements.
The application cycle closes on May 6.
University of Arizona News | March 19, 2021
Researchers in the UArizona's Southwest Institute for Research on Women will study how policy changes during the pandemic have affected access to medication for opioid use disorder, especially for rural and tribal communities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose deaths increased 38.4% in a 12-month period in the United States – the largest increase in the nation's history. The health crisis was especially felt in Arizona communities, which have higher overdose rates and lower access to opioid treatment providers than the national average.
Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic also created an opportunity to improve access to medication for opioid use disorder, or MOUD, which is considered the "gold standard" treatment and includes methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. During the pandemic, federal regulators relaxed policies to make it easier for people to access MOUD treatment without risking in-person interactions. What remains to be learned is which Arizona MOUD providers implemented these flexible policies and how that affected patient health.
The University of Arizona Southwest Institute for Research on Women, or SIROW, received a $230,357 grant from the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts, or FORE, to study the impact of COVID-19 on MOUD access and patient health. The research team will document the effects of policy changes made as a result of the pandemic by conducting a survey of 1,000 Arizona MOUD providers and interviews with 200 MOUD patients, with a focus on rural and tribal communities.
"This is a community-based action research project to address the maldistribution of MOUD in Arizona," said Beth Meyerson, principal investigator and research professor with SIROW. Meyerson noted that the opportunity came out of a longstanding relationship with the community.
"Our partners identified this as an opportunity to create evidence to inform federal policy," she said.
"We have a short window of time to evaluate the impact of temporary policy changes related to providing medications for opioid use disorder and telehealth so we can develop longer-term, evidence-based solutions that sustain access to better and more equitable care beyond the pandemic," said Dr. Karen A. Scott, president of FORE. "We are proud to partner with the University of Arizona on this initiative, which includes an important focus on access and equity issues facing tribal, rural and remote communities, as well as other communities of color."
The study is led by a multidisciplinary research team and involves multiple UArizona centers and community partners. At UArizona, SIROW's Meyerson, Keith Bentele and Brenda Granillo will join Ben Brady, a researcher with the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center.
Christopher Abert, executive director of the Southwest Recovery Alliance, or SWRA, and Danielle Russell from Sonoran Prevention Works are the community-based co-investigators. The project will be directed by a statewide MOUD Patient and Provider Advisory Board, and patient interviews will be conducted by trained community members.
"It means a lot to us that FORE and SIROW have chosen to advance patient-centered, evidence-based solutions," Abert said. "This study will ensure that people living with opioid use disorder can be co-creators of evidence to influence policy changes and address health inequities."
"This project represents the community-based action research that SIROW is known for," said Josephine Korchmaros, director of SIROW, which is housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. "This is an opportunity to create policy and system changes that will impact people's lives for years to come."
PHOENIX MAGAZINE | Keridwen Cornelius | March 4, 2021
The solitary, satchel-carrying rural doctor is etched into our enduring fantasy about small-town Arizona. But such physicians are fading away. The doctors are gone, but the towns – and the medically underserved people who live in them – remain.
A few years ago, Dr. Molly Anderson – the only physician serving the verdant Southern Arizona village of Patagonia – was called for jury duty. As she sat in the small-town courtroom, each potential juror was asked if they knew anyone involved in the case. Anderson recalls looking around and thinking, “Well, the defendant is a patient. The victim is a patient. The witnesses are patients. The detective is a patient. And I can’t say this because of privacy laws.”
Fortunately, she didn’t need to breach confidentiality. One after the other, they all admitted to knowing her. The “everybody knows your name” phenomenon is one of the side effects of practicing in a one-doc town – a bucolic lifestyle immortalized in shows like Northern Exposure and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
But the solo family physician on the frontier is fast going the way of fiction. In 1983, 40 percent of the nation’s doctors practiced alone, according to the American Medical Association. By 2018, that number had fallen to less than 15 percent, underscoring a troubling fact: Arizona suffers from a huge shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs). To meet its needs, the state currently requires an extra 563 PCPs, plus an additional 1,941 by 2030, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The scarcity is felt most acutely in rural areas, which struggle to recruit and retain physicians and are hemorrhaging hospitals and health clinics. According to an informal PHOENIX magazine study of Arizona Medical Board licenses and medical clinics statewide, only about a half-dozen true one-doctor towns remain. Most Arizona towns of 1,000 residents or less have no dedicated local physician – they’re zero-doctor towns.
That’s certainly a loss for people living in these “medical deserts” scattered around the state. And it may also be a loss for clinicians. Because some family docs in remote Arizona towns like Patagonia, Seligman and Safford say small-town medicine epitomizes the kind of personalized, caring experience that both doctors and patients desire. Unfortunately, that too is disappearing. But some country docs in Arizona are trying to keep the tradition alive.
It wasn’t blind fate that conspired to make Dr. Michael Druschel the lone physician serving the Route 66 outpost of Seligman. He grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and has always gravitated to blink-and-you-miss-’em burgs. That’s not unusual. A rural background is the strongest predictor that a doctor will choose to practice in a rural location, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
A year and a half ago, Druschel moved to Flagstaff, where his wife and two daughters can enjoy urban amenities and he can pursue his passions for skiing, biking and running. Three days a week, he works at the North Country HealthCare clinic in Williams. And once a week, he puts on a podcast or audiobook and drives a little over an hour to the smaller clinic in Seligman (population: 776).
Again, that’s not unusual. In the past, solo country docs often hung their shingle in their hometown. But in today’s consolidated system, rural physicians are typically employed by a company that operates several full- or part-time satellite facilities. So practitioners may toggle between clinics in Green Valley, Arivaca and Amado, or Parker, Quartzsite and Bouse.
Rural populations skew older, and that’s certainly true in Seligman, which attracts retirees seeking an off-grid, nostalgic lifestyle. So Druschel, a family medicine M.D., does a lot of geriatric care. But in the absence of nearby specialists, he also has to be a sort of Swiss Army knife in scrubs, wielding a range of skills with aplomb. And that suits Druschel just fine. “I’m someone who likes variety,” he says. “I’m someone who also likes procedures. So if I can do something safely in my clinic, I usually like to try to find a way to make it happen.”
On one recent patient, Druschel personally performed an echocardiogram, plus a lung and abdominal ultrasound, then inserted an IV and ran the fluid, drew blood, and finally sent the blood via courier to a lab. He’s conducted a sleep study in a patient’s home, provides basic counseling and prescribes psychiatric medicine. “I feel I make deeper connections with my patients,” he says, “because they really come to rely on me… since I’m the one managing the majority of their medical issues.”
Since many older patients can no longer drive long distances, and some lack the transportation or inclination to leave town, frontier family physicians sometimes have to treat conditions that push them to the limits of their comfort zones. In Patagonia, Anderson recalls a patient who came to her clinic with a severe laceration. She recommended heading to the hospital. But the patient gave her an ultimatum: “Either you do it, or it’s not gonna get done.”
Unlike Druschel, Anderson comes from an urban background. The family physician grew up in Phoenix, attended college in Los Angeles and went to the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine in Tucson. The first 12 years of her career, she logged 80-hour weeks in urgent care at a Tucson clinic. When her husband retired, she decided she wanted a lifestyle that made room for her hobbies: hiking, serving on Democratic Party committees, volunteering with the Unitarian Church and writing bawdy limericks.
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Arizona's Native American population has been hit disproportionately hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Native Americans make up about 5% of Arizona's population but at least 8% of the state’s deaths from the virus. But since vaccines started rolling out across the state, Native Americans have been getting vaccinated at higher rates than the general population. Agnes Attakai, a member of the Navajo Nation and director of Health Disparities Outreach and Prevention Education at the University of Arizona's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, is interviewed.
The Santa Fe New Mexican | By Rick Ruggles email@example.com | Mar 5, 2021
The New Mexico Department of Health will soon identify in its coronavirus vaccination invitations which vaccine a person will receive, and most experts urge people to accept any of the three.
“Please get a vaccine as soon as you are eligible,” the Health Department said Friday. “It could save your life.”
The matter is considered pertinent because some Catholics and evangelical Christians have discouraged use of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They have questioned the morality of Johnson & Johnson’s use many years ago of fetal cell lines derived from abortions.
Archbishop John C. Wester of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe said this week that the availability of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine is encouraging. That vaccine requires only one dose, while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines call for two, making the Johnson & Johnson inoculation more convenient for rural New Mexicans, he said.
Using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is fine, Wester said, because it moves the country closer to widespread immunity and promotes “protection of human life.” It is “entirely morally acceptable” to receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, he said.
Catholic leaders in St. Louis, New Orleans and other places have decried the ethics and morality of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Pfizer and Moderna used fetal cell lines in some of the testing of their vaccines, but Johnson & Johnson used them to help produce its vaccine. Regardless, the cell lines used in either testing or production are from abortions that took place decades ago.
The cells continue multiplying in laboratories and are long removed from the original fetal cell. Sciencemagazine reported that cell lines have been used since the 1960s to make vaccines against rubella and other diseases.
Most medical officials and organizations encourage getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it’s the one available.
“These cell lines are literally thousands of generations removed from when they originated,” said Daniel Derksen, a family physician and director of the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health. “There’s no tissue from a fetus. They’re not the same as aborted fetal tissue.”
Derksen said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has less stringent refrigeration requirements than the two others and “really helps states like New Mexico and Arizona,” with vast rural areas.
The New Mexico Department of Health said Friday: “To be clear … there is no fetal tissue in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.”
The Catholic-affiliated Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe will not offer people a choice of vaccines “and will be administering what we have available at the time,” Christus spokesman Arturo Delgado said in a statement. All three vaccines have proven effective in preventing hospitalizations, he said, “and our focus is on doing what’s best for our community.”
A 72-year-old Santa Fe woman said Friday she would accept any of the vaccines but hasn’t yet been invited. The woman, who asked that she not be named, said she has heart and breathing conditions, has an immune deficiency and is overweight. She said she can’t seem to get to the front of the list and that a 64-year-old friend in Santa Fe without underlying conditions has already received a shot.
“Something’s not right,” she said. “I’ll take whatever I can get. … I just want the vaccination.”
Dr. Tracie Collins, the state’s health secretary, said earlier in the week that the state had received 17,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Collins said the state would distribute those doses to the 10 counties with the lowest vaccine coverage.
Health Department spokesman Matt Bieber said Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties are among the 10. Bieber said the decision on which vaccine is offered will be based on what’s available. If a patient rejects the first invitation, they will be placed back in the line of eligible recipients.
“Not at the front or the back,” Bieber said in an email.
Derksen called all three “miracle vaccines” that are highly effective in preventing complications from the disease and death.
“That’s what we ought to be focused on,” he said.
By Jacob Holter | Cronkite News | Feb 25, 2021
WASHINGTON – Health officials confirmed COVID-19 in another 1,310 Arizonans Wednesday and reported that 43 more people died from the disease, according to the latest numbers from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Depressing numbers – but a vast improvement from just six weeks ago, when the daily average of new cases in one week was 9,742 people and deaths were averaging 154 a day. And an indication, experts said, that the state may have finally turned a corner.
“I think we’ve definitely seen the worst of this pandemic,” said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association. “I think the worst of the worst will end up being that first two weeks of January.”
It comes as the national death toll topped 500,000 and the number of Americans infected with the disease passed 28 million. But it also comes as hospitalization rates have plummeted and vaccination efforts have started to take hold, with 65 million doses administered nationwide and almost 1.6 million in Arizona.
“We are getting much better at getting the COVID-19 vaccinations in people’s arms,” said Dr. Daniel Derksen, director of the Arizona Center for Rural Health. “We have certainly seen that in the large-population counties like Maricopa and Pima, who have been particularly effective in these things like State Farm Arena.”
Both Humble and Derksen said that, with vaccination efforts continuing to rise, they do not expect to see spikes again like the one the state saw in January. Humble blamed that surge on holiday parties and family gatherings that spread the virus, which showed up in new cases in early January.
Since the first of the year, cases in Arizona have risen from 520,196 to 808,895 and deaths have skyrocketed, from 8,864 to 15,693. Just over 60% of intensive-care unit beds in the state were occupied by COVID-19 patients, a number that would rise to 66% less than two weeks later.
But all the numbers have pointed down since then. Just 25% of ICU beds are now occupied by COVID-19 patients, the lowest percentage since mid-November, while deaths and new cases continue to drop.
There are still challenges ahead. A vaccination site at Chandler-Gilbert Community College will close for four days next week as it shifts from county to state management. And new coronavirus variants continue to pop up, presenting a new type of threat.
Winter storms that wreaked havoc in the South delayed delivery of some vaccines, Derksen said, with multiple county health departments telling the state health department they had to cancel appointments as a result. Coconino County said in a statement last week, for example, that “some vaccination sites must cancel and reschedule first dose appointments scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 18, and Friday, Feb 19.”
But Derksen said Arizona appears to be back on track.
More than 1.1 million Arizonans – 15.5% of the state’s population – have received at least one dose of vaccine so far, and 438,534 have received both doses to be fully immunized. The Chandler-Gilbert Community College site will be the fourth mass vaccination site when it reopens next week, and a new one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson appears to be on the verge of approval.
Humble worries that the state may be rushing to open the pool of vaccine-eligible Arizonans too quickly to younger people, in a push to vaccinate essential workers.
“If you throw essential workers into the pot at this point, you dilute our ability to protect seniors, and they are the ones that are at the highest risk of having a bad outcome, filling our hospitals, and dying,” Humble said.
Despite their optimism, both Derksen and Humble stressed that this is not the time to let our guard down. They repeated the health care workers now-common refrain, urging people to continue social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands and staying home when sick.
“As we get more vaccinations done, and as people continue to take care of themselves by wearing masks, social distancing, and the other things that we have been trying to do for some time, we need to continue those because we are still in the first phase of immunizations and we really need to get those vaccinations to the general public,” said Derksen.
He is confident that if the state can keep up the pace of vaccinations, it will be in good shape. And once a majority of Arizonans are vaccinated, the population will be better protected against variants that may present themselves in the future.
But they caution that it will not happen overnight.
“I think we can really reduce the impact of this and get back to the new normal as they have been calling it,” Derksen said. “We are all eager for that to happen, but we still have a few months to go before we can get close to that.”
» Video and more at link below:
Watch the Arizona Public Media video:
Arizona 360 PBS 6 Tucson, PBS World Channel 8.3.
» Dan Derksen discusses distribution in rural areas starting at 19min:42sec.
By Sarah Oven | Cronkite News | February 15, 2021
WASHINGTON – Health advocates welcomed Monday’s reopening of enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage, saying the opportunity for more people to get or renew their health insurance could be “really good for Arizona.”
The normal period for Americans to sign up for coverage ended Dec. 15, but President Joe Biden called for this special 90-day open enrollment period in response to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
The change could open the door to subsidized health insurance for thousands in Arizona, where as many as 900,000 people may not have health insurance, according to Dr. Dan Derksen, director of the University of Arizona Center for Rural Health. Derksen said as many as half of those people could get covered under the ACA.
“This extension of the open enrollment period Is a way that we can get more information out there so that people understand what they might be eligible for, and then get enrolled,” Derksen said Monday, the first day of open enrollment.
Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, praised the decision to reopen the enrollment period as a “timely and targeted” solution that is “exactly what Americans need.”
“Every American deserves access to affordable health coverage and high-quality care, and that is especially true during a pandemic,” Eyles said. “We appreciate the Biden administration for providing this additional opportunity for hardworking American families to enroll in coverage for their health and financial security as they continue to fight to overcome the COVID-19 crisis.”
The move also allows for further gains in enrollment under the ACA – also known as Obamacare – after years of steady declines under the Trump administration. Enrollment fell from 9.6 million nationwide in 2017 to 8.2 million in the open enrollment that ended in December. In Arizona, the numbers fell from 203,066 to 154,504 over the same period.
Advocates said the declines, which leveled off last year, were due to an “erosion” of support under President Donald Trump, including fewer staff to help people navigate the marketplace, shorter enrollment periods and a decrease in outreach resources.
The special open enrollment period, which is open until May 15, is the second move in two weeks by the Biden administration to reverse Trump administration policy in regard to the ACA.
The Supreme Court in November heard arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of the ACA, and the Trump administration had sided in that case with opponents of the law. But the deputy solicitor general wrote the court on Wednesday to say the Biden administration “has reconsidered the government’s position” and now argues that the law is constitutional and should stand, even if the court finds part of it is flawed.
The reversals are not surprising, said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association, who called the Trump administration a “little hostile” to the ACA.
“I think we have people who are making decisions to use the funds that they currently have and ways to actually try to motivate and engage people in the marketplace, which was not the case under the Trump administration,” Humble said.
That was echoed by Derksen, who said that most people “realize that with the change in leadership at the national level there would be a renewed interest in the Affordable Care Act coverage availability.”
Health insurance in the ACA marketplace is open to anyone, but the plans are designed to provide low-cost or no-cost coverage based on patients’ income.
Advocates said many will find they can get coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which in Arizona go by the names Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and Kids Care, respectively. People who exceed the income limits for those programs may still be eligible for tax rebates to make the coverage affordable.
Interested people should go to Healthcare.gov for more information about their eligibility for coverage. In Arizona, a good place to start is CoverAZ.org, where people can get free advising on their eligibility and the best plan for them, said Marcus Johnson, director of state health policy and advocacy at Vitalyst Health Foundation.
“If you don’t have health insurance right now, if you recently lost your job during the pandemic or if you’ve never had health insurance, this is a great opportunity for people to shop for quality and affordable health insurance coverage,” Johnson said.
He said it is important to realize that whatever the Supreme Court rules in the ACA case, it will have “no bearing on this current open enrollment opportunity.”
“Now is the time to jump on board and see what you qualify for if you don’t have health insurance coverage,” Johnson said Monday.
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Today, in accordance with the Executive Order signed by President Biden, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is announcing that the Special Enrollment Period (SEP) for the Health Insurance Marketplace® will officially be available to consumers in the 36 states that use the HealthCare.gov platform on Monday, February 15, and will continue through Saturday, May 15. At least 13 States plus the District of Columbia, which operate their own Marketplace platforms, have decided to offer a similar opportunity.
"President Biden was clear: we need to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and give more Americans access to health care, especially during this pandemic, which has further demonstrated the importance of having the right coverage. This Special Enrollment Period will give Americans who need affordable, quality health insurance an opportunity to get covered, and we encourage folks to head to HealthCare.gov starting on Monday to explore their options," said HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran.
For one-on-one virtual assistance, visit: http://coveraz.org/connector
PHOENIX ‒ Governor Doug Ducey and the Arizona Department of Health Services today announced a partnership with the University of Arizona and the Pima County Health Department to operate a state vaccination site on the university’s mall area on central Tucson campus.
“Our state vaccination sites at State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium have been instrumental in Arizona’s work to vaccinate people quickly, efficiently and safely,” said Governor Ducey. “We’re thrilled to partner with the University of Arizona and the Pima County Health Department to open a site in Southern Arizona and rapidly expand vaccine distribution. The demand for vaccine doses is high, and Arizonans have made it clear they want it. We are working hard to secure more doses from the federal government and partner with private and public organizations to get the vaccine out and protect Arizonans. My thanks to President Bobby Robbins and everyone involved for their work to partner on this vaccination site.”
The state vaccination site will expand the current capacity and hours of operation at the existing university site, which has a proven record of success in vaccinating students, faculty and staff. The transition to a state site will add more appointments that will begin on Feb. 18. Registration for these appointments will open at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, at podvaccine.azdhs.gov. Those without computer access or needing extra help registering can call 1-844-542-8201 for assistance. The partnership will also allow for expanded hours of operation, eventually operating 24/7 as more vaccine doses arrive in Arizona. At full capacity, the site can serve up to 6,000 people per day.
“Serving as a COVID-19 vaccine point of distribution (POD) and delivering more than 12,000 shots to local county members from first responders, K-12 and post K-12 educators and staff over the past two weeks has been a privilege for the University of Arizona, and we welcome the opportunity to provide the same service to Southern Arizona as a 24/7 vaccination site for the state,” said University of Arizona President Dr. Bobby Robbins. “Our POD has the capacity to deliver more vaccinations, and we look forward to working together to further meet the needs of Pima County and Arizonans. I am incredibly proud of our entire team of professionals and volunteers who have partnered closely with Pima County, established the university POD, and operated it so well.”
Today’s announcement of the vaccination site at the University of Arizona comes as the university and the state are experiencing a drop in COVID-19 cases.
“Demand for the vaccine remains high, and the state’s third vaccination site and first in Southern Arizona will help meet that demand,” said Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ. “We’ll have the ability to vaccinate more people each day at this site once we have more vaccine doses, and we are working with our federal partners to secure more supplies and rapidly expand vaccinations. We are looking forward to working with the University of Arizona and Pima County to get this site running and protect more Arizonans.”
The vaccination site at the University of Arizona will be the third state site, and the first in Pima County. On Jan. 11, Arizona opened its first state-run site at State Farm Stadium, where 178,084 vaccine doses have been administered. On Feb. 1, the state opened its vaccination site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where 14,946 vaccine doses have been administered. As of Tuesday, 954,290 vaccine doses have been administered across the state.
Information about all vaccination sites across Arizona can be found at azhealth.gov/findvaccine. Note: You can use the patient portal at podvaccine.azdhs.gov to make an appointment for a relative in a prioritized group.