Arizonans 75 and older moved to higher priority slot for COVID vaccine

Dec 29, 2020, 9:29 AM | Updated: 11:05 am
(Twitter Photo/@CVSHealth)...
(Twitter Photo/@CVSHealth)
(Twitter Photo/@CVSHealth)

PHOENIX — The panel of health experts that makes Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccination priority recommendations moved adults 75 and older into a higher slot on Monday.

The 75-and-up group is now part of a new classification, Prioritized 1B, that also includes teachers, child care workers and law enforcement occupations, according to the Arizona Vaccine and Antiviral Prioritization Advisory Committee’s latest allocation recommendations.

An estimated 530,000 Arizonans are 75 and older, a demographic that faces an elevated risk of falling seriously ill or dying from the coronavirus. The reprioritization is expected to help reduce the load on Arizona’s hospitals, which are buckling under the weight of record numbers of COVID-19 patients.

“As you look at the prioritization, what we are trying to do is make sure that those that have the most severe outcomes, such as hospitalizations and death, are prioritized early to get the vaccine, one that’s going to protect people from potentially dying,” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

Prioritized 1B is behind only 1A in the state plan, which now has four tiers of priority populations. The change doesn’t affect residents of long-term care facilities, who are part of phase 1A and already have started receiving vaccines.

Christ said that the process for letting people in the new classification know they are eligible will vary by county and is still being worked out.

“We will be making announcements as we get more information on how to register, but we’re looking at a lot of different mechanisms,” she said.

“We’re working with the counties to identify if they’re going to have mass vaccinations sites, if they’ll be able to go to the pharmacies, if we’ll have mobile vaccinations clinics that can go to people’s homes.”

Vaccinations for Prioritized 1B are expected to begin in mid- to late January, although it might start earlier in some counties, Christ said.

Christ said she expects the last priority phases to be completed by February or March, with phase 2, the general population, starting in March or April.

According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control, adults ages 75 and older who contract COVID-19 are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 220 times more likely to die than those ages 18-29.

In the previous version of the plan, which was updated Dec. 14, the state’s approximately 1.2 million adults ages 65 and over were prioritized in phase 1C, which was then the third of three priority groups. There was no separate category for people 75 and older.

The Vaccine and Antiviral Prioritization Advisory Committee meets regularly to make recommendations about how to fairly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona while supplies are limited.

The committee is made up of state, local and tribal experts, including representatives from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Local health officials or tribal authorities are able to modify the recommendations to fit their needs.

Monday’s update aligns with new recommendations from the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Christ said.

Vaccine distribution began in Arizona two weeks ago for people in phase 1A, which includes front-line health care staff, emergency medical workers and residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Christ said almost 40,000 shots have been given so far in Arizona.

Federal officials have approved emergency use authorization for two vaccines, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, with effectiveness rates above 90%. Both require two shots several weeks apart for full effectiveness.

The Moderna vaccines are more easily distributed to multiple sites because they can be stored in regular freezers.

The Pfizer vaccines, which are currently being given at five locations across metro Phoenix, have to be kept at extremely cold temperatures in specially designed freezers.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ali Vetnar contributed to this report.

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Arizonans 75 and older moved to higher priority slot for COVID vaccine