The Pima County Health Department is working to launch six mobile vaccination sites with FEMA funding.
Pima County Medical Director Dr. Francisco Garcia discussed the move on Friday, saying that the county hoped FEMA would help cover some of the costs of setting up the clinics as county officials work to vaccinate more residents.
Garcia said the county had given up on obtaining permission from the state to bring more vaccine doses to Pima County, but the county has plenty of vaccine now. The challenge is persuading those who are vaccine-hesitant to get their first shot and convincing those who had their first shot to get their second.
"Fortunately, today we have the vaccine in our hands,” Garcia said.
The “Plan B” asks for six mobile sites with funding from FEMA, according to Huckelberry’s April 20 memo. The sites will not need the permission of Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Health Director Cara Christ, who had put multiple roadblocks in the path of a Pima-FEMA partnership that would have delivered enough doses to vaccinate more than 200,000 residents.
County doubles down on vaccination effort
As the county continues its mobile vaccination effort to deliver shots to those vulnerable or minority communities, Garcia said the county is planning efforts to address vaccine hesitancy, especially after the pause of Johnson & Johnson.
“We cannot underestimate the impact that the J&J and the federal action to take J&J temporarily off the table has had on vaccine demand,” said Garcia. “Remember that J&J was actually, probably, the most commonly requested, that was actually kind of the only brand that was being requested when we were doing our vaccination PODs.”
With the pause, the mobile site began offering Moderna, as the Pfizer vaccine continues to face issues in mobile site implementation.
With both Pfizer and Moderna, Garcia said the challenge was the second dose, and committing the mobile clinic to return to the same location. He said the strategy continues to evolve, but they are making sure that when people vaccinated at a mobile site, “they understand that they need a second shot, and that they understand where to go for that second shot, because in some cases we will not be able to be back in exactly that same neighborhood exactly four weeks down the road in order to vaccinate.”
The county has not administered Pfizer at a mobile clinic because it requires ultra cold chain handling and it comes in multi-use vials with several doses. Garcia said Pfizer would pose the issue of “vaccine wastage.”
“You can imagine that as demand slackens, what happens when you've popped open a vial of Pfizer with 14 doses, but you only have 10 people?” asked Garcia. “We are still feeling that need to be as careful with that resource, but by the same token, not missing the opportunity to pivot. If somebody shows up not missing that opportunity to vaccinate that individual.”
He notes that not only was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on pause last week, but other people getting vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna were questioning the safety of the vaccines. He said they are working four times as hard for every vaccine delivered.
“We know that a lot of people are not actually truly resistant, but are just hesitant. They're waiting to see how the dust settles,” said Garcia. “We're hoping to make vaccine opportunities so ubiquitous throughout our community, whether it's on Fourth Avenue, whether it's in some of these parts, whether it's at a fixed site. We're trying to make it so damn ubiquitous, that essentially you fall into a vaccination needle without much effort. If we can decrease those barriers for those folks for whom these are obstacles. I believe that we will continue to make progress.”
County continues to require masks
Following Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order rescinding mask mandates for K-12 schools and signing a bill that allows businesses to ignore local jurisdiction mask mandates, the health department updated its Public Health Advisory on Friday, April 23.
It made clear for schools that the Board of Supervisors Resolution 2020-96 is still in effect, which requires people over the age of 5 to wear masks. It also states that businesses should follow “state, county, and industry-specific guidance related to COVID-19 mitigation.”
“We believe that our mask mandate is legal and valid until 90 days after this legislature adjourns and because we have this short window of time to get people vaccinated, we're going to double down and do everything that we can in order to encourage people, cajole, incentivize people to be observant of that mask mandate,” said Garcia. “It really has an impact on the infection in this community.”
The health department surpassed its goal of 300,000 vaccines administered by March 31, with 621,000 vaccines administered as of April 21.
“We’re not done yet folks,” said Garcia, pointing out the plateau of COVID-19 cases daily since March 14, where the state has seen around 600 cases of COVID-19 daily.
ACIP recommends J&J in the U.S.
The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted 10-4, with one member abstaining, to recommend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the U.S. last week.
Members moved to vote on two different interim recommendations. The first only stated the recommendation of the J&J vaccine for persons 18 and older in the U.S. under FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization, while the second added a note that women under the age of 50 should be aware of the “increased risk of Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) and may choose another COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use in the U.S.”
The administration paused the vaccine last week after reports of six women developing a rare blood clot disorder after receiving the J&J vaccine.
The disorder combines blood clotting (Thrombosis), often in the brain with a low level of platelets, the blood cells that promote clotting, which is called (Thrombocytopenia Syndrome).
At the meeting, a CDC scientist confirmed nine new confirmed cases of the rare disorder, all women, bringing the total to 15, with 13 cases in women between 18 and 49 years old.
If the use of the Janssen vaccine resumed for those 18 and older, 26 to 45 cases of blood clotting disorder could be expected over the next six months, according to a model presented by CDC Scientist Dr. Sara Oliver. However, we could also expect about 800 to 3,500 fewer ICU admissions and 600 to 1,400 fewer deaths.
The majority voted for the first recommendation, but those in favor agreed with the four that voted no.
“I voted yes. I can live with this recommendation, but I think that under an emergency use authorization, where there is no inside informed consent, that it could be that ACIP recommendations might need to reflect some more nuanced concerns than under the usual procedure,” said Dr. Beth Bell, ACIP voting member and COVID-19 workgroup chair. “I am concerned that the consumers and women in this age group in particular, will not be adequately informed just by the FDA EUA vaccines and so we really are depending on the public health agencies and the partner organizations to make sure that people actually are informed and are empowered, and that they actually get a balanced perspective.”
Southern AZ COVID-19 AM Roundup for Monday, April 26: County working with FEMA on new vax sites; Walk-ins welcome at UA vax POD, other locations; Mask ordinance remains in place in Pima County; Here’s how to set up vaccine appointments
Vaccine walk-ins welcome; appointments available
You no longer need an appointment to get a shot at the UA vaccination point of distribution. The POD will now accept anyone over the age of 16 who comes in for a shot.
The pod, which offers both a drive-thru clinic on the UA Mall and a sit-down clinic in the Ina E. Gittings Building (1737 E. University Blvd.), is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
If you’d rather schedule an appointment, the state is expected to open new first-dose appointments daily at podvaccine.azdhs.gov. Call 602-542-1000 or 844-542-8201 for help in English or Spanish.
Because of rising temperatures, the drive-thru clinic will close on May 3.
If you need help, call the COVID Ambassador Team hotline at 520-848-4045 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily or email email@example.com.
Meanwhile, Pima County officials are shifting to indoor vaccination sites to avoid making staff and volunteers endure long days in triple-degree temperatures.
Pima County has opened a new indoor vaccine site at the Kino Event Center, where the county had earlier been doing COVID testing. That site is open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Register at azdhs.gov.
The county has also opened an indoor vaccination POD at El Pueblo Center, 101 W. Irvington Road, which is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. No appointment is necessary.
The drive-through POD at Banner-South Kino Stadium, 2500 E. Ajo Way, is now offering appointments between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and will close permanently on May 14.
As of Sunday, April 25, 391,523 people in Pima County had received at least one shot of the virus, accounting for 37.5% of the population. A total of 299,659 people were fully vaccinated.
Register for an appointment at a Pima County POD at pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration or by calling 520-222-0119.
Many local pharmacies are now receiving vaccine doses. To find one near you, visit the ADHS website.
Get tested: Pima County has free COVID testing
Pima County is continuing to offer a number of testing centers and pop-up testing sites around town, including the northside Ellie Towne Flowing Wells Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road. Schedule an appointment at pima.gov/covid19testing.
The University of Arizona’s antibody testing can determine if you have had COVID and now have antibodies. To sign up for testing, visit https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/home.
With 750 new cases reported today, the total number of Arizona’s confirmed novel coronavirus cases rose past 859,000 as of Monday, April 26, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Pima County, which reported 62 new cases today, has seen 114,892 of the state’s 859,487 confirmed cases.
With no new deaths reported this morning, a total of 17,268 Arizonans have died after contracting COVID-19, including 2,391 deaths in Pima County, according to the April 21 report.
A total of 611 coronavirus patients were in the hospital as of April 25. That’s roughly 12% of the number hospitalized at the peak of the winter surge, which reached 5,082 on Jan. 12. The summer peak was 3,517, which was set on July 13, 2020. The subsequent lowest number of hospitalized COVID patients was 468, set on Sept. 27, 2020.
A total of 946 people visited emergency rooms with COVID-like symptoms on April 25. That number represents 40% of the record high of 2,341 set on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020. That number had peaked during the summer wave at 2,008 on July 7, 2020; it hit a subsequent low of 653 on Sept. 28, 2020.
A total of 184 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care unit beds on April 25d, which roughly 15.5% of the record 1,183 ICU patients set on Jan. 11. The summer’s record number of patients in ICU beds was 970, set on July 13, 2020. The subsequent low was 114 on Sept. 22, 2020.
—with additional reporting from Austin Counts, Christina Duran, Jeff Gardner and Mike Truelsen