Big differences between the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Phoenix area vs. rural Arizona
As the state of Arizona is quickly expanding its drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination sites in Maricopa County, some outlying counties are struggling with logistical challenges and an unreliable supply.
Nearly 150,800 vaccines have been administered at the two state-operated sites — State Farm Stadium in Glendale, which opened Jan. 11, and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which just opened Feb. 1. That's in addition to the 344,149 vaccinations administered at Maricopa County sites.
At the same time, officials in several outlying counties are struggling with a low and inconsistent supply of vaccine. They are having trouble planning ahead.
In Cochise County this week, officials were able to offer just 100 first-dose appointments because of a lower-than-expected allocation.
Some Cochise County residents are driving to the state-operated sites in Phoenix and Glendale, but that option "does insert some real inequities in access," said Alicia Thompson, Cochise County's health and social services director.
Last week Thompson said she felt sick to her stomach when she learned that the county's entire allocation was 1,100 doses. She immediately set aside 1,000 for pre-booked second-dose appointments, which left just 100 first-dose appointments available.
"We just don't have the vaccine and that is why I've been contacting state legislators and other people because it's just very, very erratic," said Dr. Edward Miller, chief medical officer for the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, which is in Cochise County. "We get as high as 4,500 doses in one week and then this week we get 1,100, but 1,000 of those are designated as second doses ... So we can do 100 new vaccines this week and that's ridiculous."
Cochise County had administered 13,100 vaccines as of Friday and 1,664 people, about 1.3% of the county population, had been fully vaccinated with two doses. Statewide, about 2% of Arizona's population as of Friday had been fully immunized with the COVID-19 vaccine, state data showed.
Yavapai County also has had problems with supply and planning.
"Early on, we were told if we built this system, they (the Arizona Department of Health Services) would supply us with vaccine to hopefully push out vaccine in rural Arizona, not just in Maricopa and Pima counties," Yavapai County Community Health Services Director Leslie Horton said.
"It takes a lot of work on rural counties to pull together the resources, the staffing, the support, and we’ve done that. Now we just hope that they’ll come through on their part and provide the vaccine that we need to run these."
Governor says he has not forgotten about rural counties
State Farm Stadium in Glendale, which opened Jan. 11, administered 8,200 COVID-19 vaccine doses on Thursday and the state-run vaccine site at Phoenix Municipal Stadium increased its daily doses on Friday to 2,000, up from the 500 per day it was doing when it opened Feb. 1.
Arizona Department of Health Services officials say they'd like to ramp up to 12,000 doses per day at both sites. Both health department director Dr. Cara Christ and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey say they have not forgotten about rural and outlying counties.
"We're focused on all of our counties. Maricopa may be getting more attention for the reason that it's the overwhelming majority population of our state. If you look at Maricopa and Pima you are talking about 85% of our state, so of course, we are going to focus our resources on that because that is where the people are," Ducey said Friday during a visit to State Farm Stadium.
State officials say supply is a problem across Arizona, and they are optimistic that the situation will improve. And erratic supply is an issue across the U.S., not just in Arizona, Ducey said.
"What we need is supply. We're going to open up a site in Pima County later in February," Ducey said. "But what's the consistent theme when you talk to anybody here ... we're going to say we need more inventory."
Christ said the state is looking at Coconino and Yuma counties to set up large vaccination sites similar to State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium. They could possibly be state-run or a state-county hybrid, she said.
A site in Yuma would be welcome news for Phoenix resident Stephanie Parra, who was born and raised in Yuma. Her family still lives there, including her aunt, who is hospitalized and critically ill with COVID-19, and her parents, who have not received a vaccine yet.
"I know there is a great need. There is an entire state we have to worry about. But Yuma has been hit hard. I'm just frustrated. Why do we continue to forget about other parts of the state?" said Parra, a Phoenix Union High School District Board member who is the executive director of a Phoenix nonprofit organization.
"I want answers. They continue to say this (State Farm vaccination site) is a replicable, scalable model. I'd love a 24/7 site in Yuma. There's plenty of space — a lot of wide-open space. Yuma is not being given the attention it deserves. It is literally being devastated."
Yuma County has had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection in Arizona since the pandemic began, at 15,431 cases per 100,000 people as of Friday. The U.S. rate of COVID-19 infection as of Friday was 7,989 cases per 100,000 people.
Rural counties face unique challenges
Some counties say their week-to-week allocations from the state vary widely, making it difficult to plan in advance and schedule appointments because the supply is not consistent or reliable.
Yavapai County had administered more than 30,000 total doses, 90% of its supply, as of Friday, according to state data. It has one of the higher vaccination rates per 100,000 residents among Arizona counties.
But it's been a "turbulent process," Horton, the health director, said.
The county's first allocation from the state in late December was a "sizable" 8,200 doses, Horton said, allowing a quick start to vaccinating health care workers and other phase 1A individuals. But after that, weekly allocations have varied from 3,900 to 12,200 to 5,000 to 2,400, she said, some of which the county was able to bump up after requesting more from AZDHS.
"We’ve had this very unsteady and ever-changing supply of vaccine each week," she said. "What’s tough from my perspective is that instability of supply for planning purposes. To maintain these operations on a rural level, we need to know that we have a consistent supply coming, or at least have some sort of outlook on that supply so that we can plan for it.”
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