COCHISE COUNTY— The vaccine to help stave off COVID-19 will be arriving in Cochise County before year’s end, health officials said Tuesday, and at least 30 entities will be administering it to frontline health care workers in the area.
The county’s health department has ordered 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine, said Alicia Thompson, DrPH, MSW, Health Director of Cochise County Health & Social Services. Thompson said it’s not clear how many doses the county will receive for Phase 1A immunizations.
Thompson and others who will be administering the vaccine did not have a firm start date as of Tuesday, but they said the shipment of vaccines should arrive in the county the week of Dec. 21.
“Cochise County population estimates indicate we have approximately 127,000 people living in our area,” Thompson said Tuesday. “The estimates that the Arizona Department of Health Services has shared of the number of health care workers in Cochise County is right around 4,000.
“The number of doses we ordered is 3,000. And as I mentioned previously, we do not know how many we will actually receive. Our first shipment will be going to our frontline health care workers who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.”
The Moderna vaccine has not received FDA approval. However, the federal agency is scheduled to review Moderna’s emergency use authorization application on Thursday, health officials said.
“Once emergency use authorization is given, we will get our vaccine and it will be pushed out to the 30 providers who have onboarded,” Thompson said.
The 30 venues — known as points of dispersal or PODS— that have been approved to administer the vaccine to frontline health care workers include local fire departments, doctor’s offices, hospitals in the county (including Chiricahua Community Health Centers) and the county’s health department, Thompson said.
According to a chart provided by the state’s Vaccine and Antiviral Prioritization Advisory Committee, the next group in the Phase 1A category includes long-term care residents who are at “high risk for severe disease and death” and the staff who interact with them.
The vaccine for persons living and working in long-term care facilities will be administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pharmacy/LTC program in partnership with Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies, Thompson said.
Based on the state chart, Phase 1B individuals include “prioritized” essential workers and essential workers, while Phase 1C are people “at high risk for severe COVID-19 disease.”
Assistant Cochise County Administrator Sharon Gilman said more people will be able to get the vaccine.
“As more vaccine becomes available, other members of the community will be eligible to receive the vaccine in later phases,” Gilman said in a press release this week.
Gilman stressed the importance of following up with a second dose of the vaccine once the individual receives the first shot.
“It is incredibly important for everyone to receive the second dose from the same manufacturer,” Gilman stated in the release. “Plans for phases II and III will include the coordination of drive-through immunization clinics throughout Cochise County which will be scheduled approximately three to four weeks apart. CHSS will announce these clinics and who is eligible to receive the vaccine at www.cochise.az.gov, the county’s Facebook page, and other media outlets.”
As for the frontline health care workers, the distribution of the vaccine will be overseen by the Fry Fire District, said Jared Haros, an engineer paramedic who is the agency’s paramedic immunization coordinator. Haros said Fry Fire District was chosen by county health officials to act as the point of distribution for the first phase of the vaccine for health care workers.
“This (first phase of the vaccine) is for everyone who goes out on 9-1-1 calls,” Haros said.
Becoming a POD is not easy. Thompson said while there are 30 entities that have “onboarded”— eligible to administer the vaccine — others agencies or facilities in the county that could possibly become eligible have not been willing to go through the arduous process involved. That includes filling out a lot of paperwork, training personnel and keeping a “rigorous” tracking system for the vaccines.
Sierra Vista Fire Chief Brian Jones said he is waiting for approval from the state to become one of the PODS that administers the vaccine. Jones said he anticipates that the POD will be at the city’s Fire Station No. 3 on Giulio Cesare Avenue.
“All of our medics are trained to administer the vaccine,” Jones said. “We should know something by the end of the week.”
Fry Fire District Chief Mark Savage and Haros both said the vaccine for frontline health care workers will be available at the Fry Fire District station on Yaqui Street.
Thompson said that first phase of vaccines for health care workers will be given in “closed PODS.” Those administering the vaccines will have a list with the names of the health care workers getting vaccinated.
“Those getting vaccinated will have to show their credentials,” she said.
Savage said he already has a list of about 15 members of the department who are ready to get the vaccine.