COCHISE COUNTY — People who have booked two appointments for a COVID-19 vaccine and didn’t cancel the second one after getting their shot have left health officials scrambling to find other individuals who could fill the slot so the vaccines would not go to waste.
Cochise County Health and Social Services Director Alicia Thompson wants the double-booking to stop.
“I would never have dreamed of people doing that,” Thompson said Tuesday. “When community members do this they are keeping someone else from getting an appointment and leaving our teams to scramble to fill the no-show.”
Thompson said she realizes some people are frightened and are making two appointments to make sure they get their shot in the arm.
But the practice, which Thompson called “creative,” has wreaked havoc among the various vaccine providers across Cochise County.
Vaccines cannot go to waste, Thompson stressed. Once a syringe is filled, the vaccine is good for six hours. The county’s health department however, prefers to administer the shots within four hours. The vaccines are allotted based on the number of appointments made. If someone fails to cancel an appointment and doesn’t show up that means a vaccine and no arm to put it in, Thompson said.
At that point, vaccine providers must call someone on their waiting list to determine if they can get their shot within the short window of time.
“If someone is a no-show, we have to find an arm to put a vaccine into,” Thompson said.
The challenge faced by vaccine providers, though, is that many people in the current phase are elderly.
“Someone who is in their 80s or 90s can’t just drop everything and be somewhere in 15 minutes to get the vaccine,” Thompson said. “And we will only give the vaccine to those who are eligible (under that phase).”
That’s how Thompson, who does not fall under the prioritized Phase 1B group, was vaccinated last month — at the last minute. She said someone didn’t show up for their appointment and staff at the health department couldn’t find anyone in the eligible group who could make it to their office before the vaccine would spoil.
“It was almost 5 p.m. and I was in the office and I was an arm,” Thompson said. “So I got the shot.”
That’s not the only double-booking scenario that has been plaguing vaccine providers.
In one recent incident, a couple booked two appointments for their vaccines. They received their shots, but then sent a younger couple to their second appointment at the health department, Thompson said. When the younger couple was turned away because they were not eligible to receive the vaccine, they got angry and overturned chairs in the health department lobby.
In a third scenario, individuals who have been given an appointment for their second vaccine have gone to another provider who was closer or more convenient, Thompson said. The appointment for the second vaccine with the initial provider was not canceled and the provider was forced to call someone on the waiting list to see if they could come for the shot.
Thompson is assuring the community that as long as the county receives its vaccine doses, people who are eligible and want the shot will get it.
The county received 4,000 doses of the vaccine on Monday, Thompson said. The large shipment should have been here last week, but was interrupted by snowstorms clamping down on other parts of the country. Another 3,400 doses — this week’s allotment — were expected late Tuesday, Thompson said.
The “trigger point” to begin the regular Phase 1B vaccines will occur when health providers “begin seeing empty appointment slots” in the prioritized Phase 1B group, Thompson said. The same will apply for Phase 1C.