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Severe winter weather across the nation is causing delays to vaccine shipments and some appointments may be delayed as a result, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the top clinical leader of Arizona’s largest hospital system.

Of the 15 counties in Arizona, the delays are affecting Pima County the most. While Bessel said there’s enough vaccine for appointments at Banner Health locations for Wednesday and Thursday, appointments for Friday and during the weekend are at-risk without more supply.

“The severe weather that many parts of the country are currently experiencing is impacting vaccine supplies over the next several days. We continue to work with all of our different states and counties to load balance those vaccines and supplies to best meet the needs of communities,” Bessel said. “In Pima County is where we have the most significant impact regarding potential need for additional vaccine.”

Pima County announced Friday that its two Banner vaccination sites are consolidating their operations beginning March 4. The Banner North and Banner South sites will operate at the Kino Sports Complex. Banner North has stopped making new appointments.

Bessel said those with vaccine appointments at a Banner location could receive a text, email or phone call saying their vaccine time needs to be rescheduled.

She emphasized that Banner has no control over the arrival of the supplies as weather delays affect the delivery of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as the needles and syringes needed to administer them.

“The shortages that we are experiencing are beyond Banner. It's beyond the counties where Banner has direct delivery of vaccine through our PODs and our clinic, and it's beyond the state. The weather is significantly impacting things, even more so than just the continued limited supply of vaccine and the supplies that go along with vaccine. Over the next couple of days, we expect to continue to be managing very tightly, almost on a day-by-day basis because of the weather and the difficulty of getting supplies and vaccine to us. We do expect that of course to improve over the next couple of days.”

Elective surgeries resume, but hospitals remain busy with COVID-19 patients

As of Monday, Banner is no longer restricting elective surgeries, but its no-visitor policy remains in place. If the COVID-19 positivity rate continues to decline, Bessel said visitor restrictions could be eased next week.

While Bessel lauded the decrease in cases, percent positivity and hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the state, Banner’s ICUs are still operating at an occupancy of 10% higher than the peak of a normal winter season.

At some Banner ICUs, bed usage is 150% of its licensed bed capacity.

Although overall metrics tracking the spread of coronavirus show promise, Bessel stressed the importance of continuing mitigation as Arizona continues the slow decline from its winter surge.

“While the decrease in all of those statistics are absolutely great and welcome, we still are in the midst of a pandemic. It is important for us to stay true to science and follow appropriate mitigation, enforcement and personal accountability,” Bessel said. “At this time, it is still really important for everybody to wear a mask and to wear a mask appropriately. It's very important for everybody to shrink your circles.”

Mitigation still important after receiving vaccine

Bessel said it’s imperative to continue mitigation strategies even after patients receive the two shots needed for full immunization.

“We ask that you continue to adhere to CDC recommendations of distancing and masking,” she said. “While we are confident in the vaccines’ effectiveness in protecting the person who has been vaccinated, we are still unsure if those that have been vaccinated can still contract COVID-19 and then potentially spread it to others.”

For those hesitant to receive the vaccine, the chief medical officer warns the shot is a much better option than contracting the potentially lethal coronavirus.

“The current vaccines that are approved under emergency use authorization are extremely effective in protecting you, the person who was vaccinated, from experiencing severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19,” Bessel said. “While it is still possible for you to become infected with an asymptomatic case of COVID-19, it is a much better option than of course serious illness or death.”   

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