BISBEE — Frustration from people trying to get appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine are being heard loud and clear by the county health department, and now steps are being taken to try to help residents get registered and vaccinated.
Cochise Health and Social Services Director Alicia Thompson reported to the Board of Supervisors work session last Friday a large number of residents are calling the health department to get information and voice their displeasure with the state site. For those without a computer or access to the internet, the problem is confounding as they may or may not get through to the state call-in line.
“Some of our community members are desperate to get the vaccine,” she said. “And they call us. We are overwhelmed with calls. Sometimes people can be on hold for 30 minutes at a time. We do try to help them set appointments.”
People who should be able to get registered are having problems and if they do manage to get registered, all the places where the vaccines are available are not showing up on the website.
Supervisor Ann English said she has heard from her constituents about the problem.
Chiricahua Community Health Clinics Inc. has offered Saturday vaccination drive-throughs and Copper Queen Community Hospital has had daily drive-through vaccination for those who are registered only. Tombstone, Benson and Sierra Vista also have drive-through vaccination sites for those who managed to get registered.
County Administrator Richard Karwaczka said, “We understand people’s frustrations.”
To counter the problem, Thompson’s team is working with the state to try to proide a direct line so Cochise County residents can get their appointments established though CHSS. She hopes to have the county call center up and running soon, but she has not heard back from the state. The county IT Department has taken the necessary steps to establish the link once the state allows it. And, there is a fast-track training session planned for staff, which will include borrowed staff from other departments.
The supervisors agreed to allow other departmental staff members to help CHSS as the department does not have enough staff to man the phones and keep up with other department duties.
Karwaczka said county staff cannot help people answer the questions on the state site.
English added, “Sometimes people want you to make decisions for them. But, we can’t do that. We’re only helping them get registered.”
Even more concerning is the lack of vaccine doses to cover the categories the state has opened. The state has expanded vaccinations to include those age 65 and older and the county has set a date of Saturday, Jan. 23, to open vaccinations for them, but whether or not people get them is still up in the air.
“A critical piece of information is we do not have enough vaccine for all these categories,” said Thompson. “We can’t get 10,000 doses of the vaccine. Every week we ask for more. Some weeks we only get 500. Our promise to you is that however many doses we receive, we will get them into the arms of our citizens.”
She told English and Supervisor Peggy Judd the state only sends the county so many doses and a certain number are retained so those who received their first shot from Dec. 22 through Jan. 8 will get their second doses as required for immunity.
“We can assure our community members we will have enough for that second dose,” she emphasized.
English stated, “People need to know we’re not getting the number of doses we ask for.”
The state orders the vaccine from the federal government and then distributes the doses to the counties. However, the counties may or may not get what they need to vaccinate all the people following the state-established phased order of priorities, Thompson said.
Right now, the state is in Phase 1B, which includes detention staff, teachers, childcare workers, those in protective services, critical industry workers, adults with high risk conditions in congregate settings, those 75 and over and soon those 65 and older. Workers will have to have proof of employment to show at their appointments even though the registration process on the state site asks pertinent questions that place people in the various categories.
One segment of the county population in need of vaccinations is personnel of the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs, said Judy Lynn, director of Emergency Services. She met with other border counties and the leadership of the agencies recently. Personnel are supposed to be covered by the Veterans Administration, but she would like to be able to get the vaccine to cover them as soon as possible.
English said, “They cover a large portion of population and economy.”
Thompson reminded them, “We are continuing to be in substantial transmission. We average 150 new cases per day. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
She went on to say it was still imperative for people to get tested, wear masks in public, wash hands frequently and, if sick, stay home and quarantine.
“We’ll keep fighting this battle until we win,” said Thompson.