Arizona’s state-run COVID vaccine sites not opening to essential workers
PHOENIX – Arizona’s state-run COVID-19 vaccination sites have shifted focus to doling out shots by age, leaving counties to determine when other priority groups become eligible.
“Counties are really responsible for prioritizing those vulnerable communities and those front-line essential workers,” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Wednesday during the launch of the fourth state-run site at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
“So they will still be working on community-based PODs [points of dispensing] and community strategies for vaccinating some of those high-risk individuals.”
Christ said the new “hybrid” approach will get vaccines to some members of vulnerable populations faster than previously expected.
“When we move down to 55 years and above, we are covering approximately 60% of all Arizonans that have a medical condition. When we move down to 45 and above, we’re hitting about 70-80% of every Arizonan that has a medical condition when we include those age groups,” she said.
“So it made sense to quickly move through those age categories because we are going to be able to hit a lot of high-risk individuals a lot sooner.”
On Monday, Arizona officials announced the state-run sites were lowering the age cutoff by 10 years to 55. The first batch of 50,000 appointments for that cohort at State Farm Stadium in Glendale and Phoenix Municipal Stadium were filled in about two hours Tuesday.
“We are focusing primarily the age categories at the state-run sites, the large PODs, just because of the efficiency and able to do that,” Christ said.
Christ said Arizona vaccine providers that are part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will also lower their age requirement to 55.
When 55% of each eligible age group has been vaccinated, the cutoff will drop by 10 years. State officials estimate that the youngest group, 16-34, will become eligible in May.
Before the hybrid approach was adopted, workers in occupations classified as essential were set to become the next eligible group, joining health care workers, educators, child care workers and law enforcement personnel. Previously eligible groups can still sign up at state-run sites along with people meeting the age requirements.
The essential worker group includes a wide range of occupations, including grocery workers, transportation, construction, utility workers, media and golf course employees. The latest list can be found in a dropdown menu of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine eligibility checker.
While the state’s four mass vaccination sites aren’t planning to accept essential workers and other priority groups, some Arizona counties already have made their allocations available to them.
“It is up to the counties to decide that. … Some counties actually are already vaccinating essential workers and some have moved into the general population,” Christ said.
Officials in Maricopa County, home to nearly two-thirds of the state’s population, said Tuesday they were working on plans to phase in essential workers and would soon have more details.
Christ said the state was working “very, very closely” with Maricopa County on its next moves.
Counties will determine their best distribution strategies, which could include employer-based events for essential occupations as well as community PODs.
The state-run sites were all booked as of Wednesday morning, but more appointments will be added when more vaccine becomes available.
For details about statewide vaccine availability, the ADHS website has a vaccine-finder page with a map of locations and information about registration and eligibility.
For Arizona vaccine information, visit azdhs.gov/findvaccine.
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