BISBEE — This week, Cochise County will receive only 1,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the state, hardly enough to satisfy the number of people waiting to get their first inoculations.

The problem with such a small supply is the need for the second dose of the vaccine, which strengthens the immune system’s response, and was to be given 28 days after the first, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, however, medical experts say the second shot can be given 42 days after the first dose, said Cochise Health and Social Services director Alicia Thompson during a work session with Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby last Friday.

Thompson has been setting aside second doses to ensure those people who are due for the second shots get them in a timely manner.

“We know exactly how many doses are need for the second shots,” she said. “We get them out quickly.”

However, with the limited amount of doses the county is receiving this week, Thompson said in order to maintain the two-week cushion of second doses, it leaves only 100 first doses.

She believes it is better to get the second dose to those who need it and voiced concerns for giving more people the first shot with no regard for when they might get their second shot.

Gov. Doug Ducey released an executive order that wants such cushions in the state be reduced to “almost zero,” according to Thompson. She compromised and changed the county “cushion” to one week.

“If they cut it again next week, then we’re going to really be in trouble,” Thompson said. “We are making the best decision we can. We’re constantly trying to stay ahead and be prepared for what we need. If we requested all the second doses we needed and all the doses for the people in the open categories, we would need close to 6,000 doses. And we only got 1,100.”

English said, “It’s been touted you can wait maybe up to six weeks to get the second dose. And people just want the first one. So, people are hoping if they get the first shot, somewhere down the line President Biden’s team is going to get more vaccine out. They’re playing a game. I don’t know if the public will be the winner. They’re trying to make the case, let’s get everybody one shot and worry about the second later.”

Retail pharmacy program rollout

Crosby asked about the federal retail pharmacy program and Thompson provided an update. Thompson said the state is rolling out the retail pharmacy program within the next two weeks.

In Cochise County the program has already rolled out and the Benson Safeway pharmacy received 400 doses, though the county did not know about it until a community member called and told the health department about the immunizations.

For the next two weeks, retail pharmacies may be the only place people can get their first doses, said Thompson. The links to the sites where appointments for the vaccine can be made are on the county website at cochisecovid.com on the vaccine page. The Fry’s in Sierra Vista and the Safeway in Benson are retail pharmacy partners.

State requires more data for vaccinations

Thompson said Gov. Doug Ducey has put out an executive order requiring additional, “burdensome” and “duplicative” documentation from the county and healthcare partners who have received 1,000 or more doses of vaccine. The county has been performing the required tasks, though other counties have not.

“Our partners have done a phenomenal job of getting our vaccine out to our community, but they are getting to the point of saying this executive order is too much,” she said. “And my greatest fear is that they’re going to say we don’t want to do it anymore. If that starts happening, we will not have the robust system in place that we currently have with our partners.”

English asked, “The state wants the number of shots hour by hour, so now they’re punishing all of us? Is that a fair assessment?”

Thomson replied yes and continued, “We have been asking all of our partners to report back to us in real time how many doses they administered in the last 24 hours. And that’s how we’ve been able to stay on top of it as well as we have.”

The state now requires the county to upload the data to two state sites and then added 18 more data points to the documentation for each patient, according to Thompson.

She said, “Our partners are doing a phenomenal job. They are able to push out larger numbers of the vaccine. The Copper Queen Community Hospital was able to get 500 vaccinated in two days. That’s no small feat.”

English asked Thompson to prepare a bullet point list of the objections, including time it takes to fill out the new data points, to share with other county supervisors and take to the state.

Thompson said Ducey’s move might make sense for other counties, but Cochise County has been fulfilling the previous requirements necessary.

Drive through vaccination planned

Craig Janiszewski, Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator, is working on setting up a drive-through event that would move around the county, provided the county can get enough doses. He said he has been working with the partners.

Janiszewski pointed out updates to the county COVID-19 website were ongoing and all the retail pharmacies that offer the vaccine have links on the site.

The county has partnered with the Air National Guard, which has a team of professional helping with the vaccination process, said Janiszewski. They come to the county weekly and help the nursing vaccination team.

He also said people were filling up the appointment slots within a short time of the information being available online.

English said she gets phone calls from people who say the information is not updated or there is not enough information on the county website.

“When people are under stress, they’re not intuitive. Our website is not intuitive. People over 70 are clamoring to get a shot. There are hurdles for them. I’m asking you to look at it from the perspective of an elderly person who doesn’t spend time online.”

Thompson said that could be done.

Every dose gets used

Judd asked about a rumor that vaccine was being discarded, though she said she did not think that was happening in the county. Thompson replied once the vaccine is taken out of the freezer and into the refrigerator, you have 30 days to use it. Once one dose has been pulled out of a vial, the vial must be used within six hours. In Bisbee, there were five people who did not show up for appointment. As soon as a person doesn’t show up, people are called until the slots are filled.

“We’ll be like the people stuck in the snow on that highway,” Thompson said. “We’re going to find people to put those doses into. We go to the county buildings.”