BISBEE — As the county continues to press the state, and the state presses the federal government, for more vaccine doses to stop the spread of COVID–19 to no avail, Cochise County Health and Social Services is working to get what doses they do acquire into the arms of its residents.
Though CHSS opened the Arizona Department of Health Services prioritized Phase 1B, which includes people 75 and older, high-risk adults in congregate settings, education and childcare workers, law enforcement, detention personnel, utility workers and now people over 65, the county does not have the vaccine to do all those inoculations, said CHSS director Alicia Thompson during a work session Jan. 22 to Board of Supervisors’ members Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Crosby.
English asked, “If we’re not getting enough vaccine to serve the 75 and older and the Phase 1A healthcare workers, do we have to let people think they can go and get an appointment by opening up more? Can they get appointments ahead of those people we haven’t been able to serve yet?”
Thompson replied, “It’s a confusing message. There is not enough vaccine to open up all the categories in Phase 1B. I could as the health director say that we are not going to open up to any new categories other than 75 and older until that population is done. But there’s a Catch-22 to it. The allocation we receive is based on the population that we’re serving. So, the more population that we’re serving, the more we should see an increase in the number of doses of vaccine.”
She explained ADHS doles out the vaccine according to the population. But, in Cochise County, the population of people over 65 grows “exponentially” in the winter due to people from out of state who live here during the cold months of the year and qualify to get vaccine.
The state does not consider that population boost in its determination of the vaccine the county needs, she said. “That puts Cochise County in a difficult position. We don’t actually know what our population of people over 75 is.
“This is a difficult, difficult situation that we’re in. Our estimations are that there are 39,000 people in the county that meet the criteria of prioritized Phase 1B. As of today, we have gotten 7,600 first doses. The county is working with 20 partners which have 35 locations and they have been working to get the vaccine out.”
All totaled, the county has had received 10,000 doses which are not only first shots, but second shots as well, said Craig Janiszewski, county Public Health Emergency Preparedness coordinator. To cover the known population of 55 and up, the county would need 26,678 doses.
Thompson said, “I could take a heavy hand and say we’ll only do people 65 and over based on the mortality rate,” Thompson said. “But, we would get extreme pushback from the other people in Phase 1B.”
English said, “If we have to open those same categories the state opened, it’s poor decision-making on the part of the state.”
The Douglas prison is getting vaccines through the Arizona Department of Corrections, said Janiszewski.
Crosby asked about the vaccinations Walgreen’s and CVS were providing to nursing homes and why some were not on the list of priorities.
Tammi Jo Wilkins, Emergency Preparedness Specialist, explained assisted living homes were not in the category because they did not provide the medical care required to meet the standards of nursing homes.
English added the state contracted with the pharmacies to provide the vaccine only to nursing homes, so places like Mountain View Gardens, a retirement complex similar to an apartment building, did not qualify.
Crosby was concerned a few of his constituents had to make the long drive to Douglas to get vaccinations as no points of distribution were available or listed in Sierra Vista.
Finding a place to go for the vaccinations and scheduling an appointment on the state website has been problematic, but people do have to go through the registration process to get an appointment, said English. A map comes up as a person successfully registers that shows the locations for inoculations. “If there are no locations on the map, there is no vaccine available.”
Thompson said she was still working on getting a call center established to help people with no access to the internet, but “there are some issues. Those in the state that opened call centers were overwhelmed. We’re trying to learn from them. We want a system that works.”