BISBEE — The Moderna vaccine has made its way to Cochise County and the team of Health and Social Services, Emergency Services and Public Health Emergency Preparedness are ready with a plan of action to get the first doses out quickly to healthcare and emergency responders.
During a work session Dec. 18, the Board of Supervisors met to discuss progress on the plan and more with Cochise Health and Social Services Director Alicia Thompson, Emergency Services interim Director Judy Lynn and Craig Janiszewski, Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator.
Thompson told Supervisors Tom Borer and Ann English, “We have everything in place, everything in order, so that when we receive that first shipment we can get it out to our community partners.”
The vaccine the county will get is the one manufactured by Moderna, which recently received emergency-use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration to prevent COVID–19 in individuals 18 and older and is still going through clinical trials. It is a two-dose vaccine, like Pfizer’s.
“It is different from the Pfizer vaccine currently being administered,” she said.
Some people have had reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, and Moderna lists some of the same side effects such as pain, tenderness and swelling of the lymph nodes in the same arm of the injection and redness. Other reactions include fatigue, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, chills, nausea, vomiting and fever. It is important to let physicians know of any allergies.
The vaccinations will be free to all who want them, said Thompson.
“People who have insurance will be asked to provide that information,” she continued. “But, that is only for administrative costs organizations are allowed to bill to the state. But the person getting the vaccine will get it at no cost to them.”
Thompson pointed out the vaccine shipments have 975 doses, the smallest number that can be ordered.
“We have to ensure the number of doses get distributed quickly,” she added. “Once the vial has thawed, it is only good for five days.”
Fry Fire Department received the Moderna vaccination and is trained to be able to administer the shots, Lynn noted.
Lynn said the county may end up getting the Pfizer vaccine and is prepared to handle the extreme cold conditions under which it must be kept thanks to a refrigeration unit.
“If the Pfizer vaccine becomes available and we can get it quickly,” she added.
Lynn pointed out since the vaccine was already being used in other parts of the state, “It allows us to get ahead of any challenges.”
Janiszewski reported Arizona Department of Health Services provided a vaccine management tool to create one portal for all partners who can access it and schedule clinics for each phase. There is a new county website with an easy to remember web address, cochisecovid.com, filled with information about COVID–19. It will allow those who had their first vaccination to know when their second dose is scheduled.
English stated, “I want the public to understand this has been thought through carefully. It will be a smooth transition if people will step up and take their part.”
Janiszewski said his first priority is to get the vaccine out to the health care partners and first responders who are to receive the shots.
“Once those are completed, we move on to the next phases,” he said.
He also explained the new staff members are helping with contact tracing of positive cases to track spread in congregate settings like schools and other priority places.
English said, “When you get a tremendous number of calls, there’s only so many calls one person can make. I knew we were following up the best we could. But, during the surges, we need extra people to make the calls. I want people to know contact tracing never stopped.”
Since the county has been without a public information officer for several months, the supervisors and COVID–19 team have been concerned about getting needed information out to the public. Lynn said she was working with Jessica Ogiba, Copper Queen Community Hospital communications director, to get messages out to the public and media.
Though she hoped to get some help from the state, negotiations hit a snag over billing for the person to handle public messaging for the county.
“Jessica has been a good resource,” added Lynn.
English was pleased to see a letter from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Edward Miller printed in the Herald/Review.
English said, “It’s good that someone from the medical community is asking people to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control guidelines. I’m impressed the medical community is stepping up to help us understand the situation better and make it more real to us.”
Through the Christmas and New Year holidays, the supervisors will not be holding the weekly Friday work sessions, but asked Thompson, Janiszewski and Lynn to continue sending emails with information pertinent to the health of the county.
English said, “We need to keep the lines of communications open to the public. People still want to know what’s going on. The holidays are coming and we need to prevent a surge like what happened at Thanksgiving. People want to get together. To prevent that, let’s not stop the flow of information. Keep the emails coming to us.”
Though over the past week, positive cases have dropped considerably, the county fears another surge like the one that happened earlier in the month reflective of the Thanksgiving weekend. It would be wise to heed recommendations for staying home, wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining a six foot distance from another person, as requested by Miller.
The Herald/Review asked the supervisors why a mask mandate or other measures to ensure public safety have not been enacted. Only English replied.
“In the beginning, before the spikes started, I thought it was a good idea to mandate masks to send the message of the importance of masking,” said English. “I was not interested in setting fines as a punishment. I thought masks could have been given out by the deputies when they saw someone in public without one.
“The other board members were adamantly opposed to infringing on personal responsibility of residents and the Sheriff told them he would not enforce a mandate. Each time it is discussed, they were happy with voluntary compliance.”