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AZDHS releases plan prioritizing coronavirus vaccine distribution

(AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Health Services released a draft playbook Tuesday for distributing the coronavirus vaccine when it’s ready.

According to the draft, health care and emergency workers will get the vaccine first, but the former AZDHS director suggests long-term care facility workers should be at the very top.

“So many of the deaths have come out of those congregate settings for seniors, and the virus gets in with staff,” Will Humble, executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association, said.

“The faster you vaccinate the staff in assisted living and skilled nursing, the better able you are to protect those residents,” Humble said . “You’re also able to take some pressure off the health care system because you’ll have fewer hospitalizations coming from that cohort.”

Teachers, school staff and childcare providers form the remainder of the “priority” group, which is right below food service workers.

Humble said food service workers may not need so much priority.

“It’s not that I don’t care about that population,” Humble said. “You have to think through where the biggest bang for the buck is, in terms of saving lives and protecting hospital capacity.”

Food service workers are considered “essential.” Humble figures they’re listed so high for the COVID-19 vaccine in order to protect the food supply.

As other experts have told KTAR News 92.3 FM, food service workers earn less and have to work on-site in order to keep their jobs.

In the second tier, AZDHS lists nursing home residents, Arizonans with chronic health problems and seniors. The department prioritizes immunizing their caretakers.

After that, the department lists racial, tribal and ethnic minorities where COVID-19 rates are higher than in white communities.

Prisoners make up the next rank, which is another group in a tight, congregate setting.

Humble is mostly pleased with the state’s draft for vaccine distribution, especially the part enabling local control.

“County health departments have a much clearer picture of what’s happening in their communities, where the top priority populations are, and the resources that are available to vaccinate folks,” Humble said.

Humble expects the draft to change, especially as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafts more guidance for the operational aspects of vaccine distribution.

“If the initial vaccines that come out require and extremely cold holding temperature, that would affect how you draw up your operational plan,” Humble said. “You may be limited in terms of the number of vaccination sites that you can use.”

The draft also outlines the decision-making process, but Humble says that’s subject to change, too.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

Arizona open and hiring: If you’re looking for job openings, visit ktar.com/arizonahiring.

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