Pima County will begin Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout late this week, and those age 75 and older are a high priority. But a distribution process is not in place yet and the county is asking for patience.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the county is moving forward with six regional vaccine centers in Tucson for the Phase 1B rollout: Tucson Medical Center, Banner North Cancer Center, Rillito Park Racetrack, the University of Arizona, Kino Banner South/Kino Stadium District, and Tucson Convention Center.
Huckelberry included the locations in a Thursday memo to the Board of Supervisors. He also said all the sites could be operational starting Jan. 15-19. Other sites are also under consideration.
Huckelberry reported that the county is looking at options other than the "cumbersome" state registration process, found online at azhealth.gov/findvaccine.
During the meeting, he said registration for assisted living homes was upended by those who didn't register but showed up to get vaccinated. Huckelberry said the county is working on other methods, such as using a phone number, to manually register people who don’t have a computer or internet access for online registration.
The state reported 11 out of 15 counties are still in Phase 1A as of Saturday, including Pima County. On Saturday, the state reported 126,090 vaccinations had been administered statewide, nearly 26,000 of those in Pima County, which had the second-highest vaccination rate per 100,000 in Arizona.
On Thursday, Huckelberry told the Green Valley News that Phase 1B should begin in Pima County late this week, and the county would prioritize people age 75 and older.
"Mainly, that's because they're more susceptible and more likely to be hospitalized," he said. "Therefore, if we want to significantly reduce the current stress on the hospital system, we need to get that group vaccinated."
Health Department Administrative Support Services Manager Jennie Mullins said the county plans to have more information soon on how people can register and where to find assistance with the vaccination process.
"We are currently working in partnership with the Pima Council on Aging to explore several avenues to make it as easy and convenient as possible for people over 75 years of age to get vaccinated in Pima County," she said. "We will have a variety of options for people to choose from to best meet their needs, everyone from healthy and independent individuals to the homebound, and those living in high-risk congregate settings."
Mullins said the county asks people to remain patient and continue COVID-19 safety measures until more information is available.
"We also want to ask for anyone with medical training to consider volunteering to join the COVID-19 response," she said. That information is available at Pima.gov on the county’s Volunteer Opportunities webpage.
PCOA President and CEO W. Mark Clark released a statement Thursday confirming the organization's cooperation with the County Health Department.
"PCOA remains particularly concerned about reaching homebound and isolated older adults and those in rural areas of Pima County," he said. "As of today, specific guidance for how to access the vaccine is not yet available for people in the 75 and older category."
Clark said PCOA plans to share information with the public through its communication channels once available and "encourage people to be patient with these processes, which will move at different paces in communities across the state."
Green Valley Fire District spokesman L.T. Pratt said they are working with Pima County and local partners in Green Valley to establish a local dispensing point for the community. Pratt said Chief Chuck Wunder would like GVFD to support the effort the best they could.
"But he can't turn away from the fact that we still have to answer 911 calls," Pratt said, adding that vaccine distribution points are extended commitments that need to operate for several months.
The County Health Department is also working with United Community Health Center as part of the vaccine rollout, and Supervisor Steve Christy’s office is involved in setting up sites in Green Valley.
The Quail Creek Property Owners Association sent an email to its residents that said the Health Department could consider Quail Creek a possible dispensing site, though nothing is firm.
The county expects to complete Phase 1A and 1B by March 31. Dr. Cara Christ, head of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said Friday that 45 percent of those eligible in Phase 1A had been vaccinated — front-line health care workers and long-term care facility staff and residents. She said they remain eligible as the counties move to 1B, which includes childcare workers, educators, those 75 and older, essential workers and adults with high-risk conditions in congregate settings.
Phase 1C is adults 65 and older, all adults with high-risk medical conditions and adults in congregate settings.
The general population falls into Phase 2 and 3. The county expects all vaccinations completed for about 640,000 residents by June.