Navajo County has urged people in the high risk groups to make reservations for a COVID-19 vaccination through the state’s reservation website.
Only people in the 1A and 1B groups at this point can make a reservation for a shot at one of the vaccine clinics. No walk-in people can get a shot, even if they’re in one of the risk groups.
The 1A group includes front-line medical workers and nursing home staff and residents. Most of the people in that group are getting their shots through the workplace and there’s a separate system for vaccinating people in nursing homes, administered nationally by pharmacy chains.
The 1B group includes teachers and support staff, other healthcare workers, police, fire and other essential workers — like food, agriculture, restaurants, grocery and utility company workers. It also includes people older than 75.
In a release this week, Navajo County urged people to go to the county’s “COVID-19 dashboard at www.navajocountyaz.gov and choose the COVID-19 Vaccine Information section. Please check the tiers and see which tier you are in. If the county is currently vaccinating your tier, you may proceed to the vaccine registration. If you decide you would like to register for the vaccine, but the program has no available appointments for your tier group at that time, please check back frequently.”
The complicated system for signing up for a reservation-only appointment has slowed the vaccine rollout across the country — with perhaps 40% of the 30 million doses distributed by the federal government actually administered at this point.
Navajo County urged people to keep checking to get an appointment.
As vaccine becomes available, more vaccine clinics are added to the program and appointment slots will open up. The County understands not everyone has internet or computer access. If you need help obtaining an appointment, please call 211. They will help sign you up over the phone if there are appointments available.
And if the 211 call center just rings busy, people can also seek help at the local public library, the release concluded.
People who are currently ill or are in isolation due to a close contact should not at this point seek a shot, even if they’re in one of the two high priority groups. Those people currently infected might have an especially strong reaction to the vaccine, which for most people includes headache and a day or two of flu-like symptoms.
If people can’t get an appointment locally, they might try traveling to one of two mass-vaccination sites in Phoenix — but only if they’re registered on the state website, according to the release.
The county’s relying on the doses of the Moderna vaccine distributed by the state. The first shot confers roughly 60% protection, which rises to 95% protection with a second dose three weeks later.
Until now, the county health department has been directly contacting employers — like school districts — to schedule closed, vaccination clinics. The difficulty in handling the Moderna vaccine coupled with strict federal priorities and the shortage of vaccine has hobbled the rollout of the vaccine.
The county health department doesn’t have the staff to handle a reservation system for larger groups — like those over 75 or those over 65 or those with high-risk conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, the vaccine rollout has gone very slowly since approval of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in mid December.
The rising demand for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines has highlighted the bungled rollout of the highly effective vaccine developed in record time. The federal Centers for Disease Control says the federal government has distributed 31.2 million doses, but only 12 million doses have actually been administered and only 1.6 million people have gotten both required doses.
Nursing home residents and staff have so far received only 1.4 million doses, although nursing homes account for roughly 36% of the deaths from the pandemic so far and represent a captive population under medical supervision. Lags in reporting might contribute to the alarmingly low number of doses actually administered, say federal officials.
Arizona has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country so far, according to a database maintained by the CDC.
Nationally, 39% of the shots distributed have been used, which amounts to a first dose for about 3.2 % of the US population.
In Arizona, 34% of the doses have been used — about 2.4 % of the population.
The slow rollout of the vaccination campaign in Arizona comes as the state ranks #1 for the rate of new cases for a second week — with a per capita infection rate of 109 per 100,000, which is nearly twice the national average.
The infection rate in Navajo County is 110 per 100,000 and in Apache county is 78 per 100,000 for a running average of the past week, according to figures updated on Jan. 18.
The rise in new cases and deaths has slowed somewhat. The average daily number of cases in the past 14 days has declined 11%, while the deaths have increased 77%. The higher death rate reflects the rate of new cases roughly a month ago. The rate of new hospitalizations has increased by about 10 % on an average daily basis in the past two weeks. Hospitals are currently more than 90% full, with some fearing a breakdown in the system if new measures don’t slow the pandemic down.
The federal government complicated issues for the county when it announced next week that it wants state’s to being offering shots to everyone aged 65 and older as well as people with documented chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, cancer, lung disease and heart disease.
But the counties don’t have enough doses to start in on those older than 75, much less the far larger group of people over 65.
The incoming Biden administration has promises an all-out effort to increase the rate at which people can get vaccinated.
The outgoing Trump Administration seed the development of two highly effective vaccines in record-breaking tim e through Operation Warp Speed. However, Congressional wrangling delayed funding to set up a mass-vaccination system for months.
The new plan would set up mass vaccination clinics throughout the country, with staffing bolstered by retired medical workers and the National Guard. The campaign would set up clinics in places like gyms, sports stadiums and community centers, plus mobile clinics in more remote areas. All told, the new administration’s plan calls for hiring 100,000 more healthcare workers to administer the vaccinations and testing.
The plan also calls for a public education blitz, partly to let people know where they can get shots and partly to cope with fears by some people about possible side effects, stoked by disinformation campaigns on social media.
The new plan also calls for the invocation of the Defense Production Act to ensure vaccine manufacturing operations have priority for materials to ramp up production.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are relatively easy to manufacture compared to other types of vaccines, but require much more careful handling in the field. They must be stored at 20 to 80 degrees below zero and must be used within an hour of opening a vial. This means health workers must plan clinics where they can make sure they have enough people lined up to use all of the doses in each vial.
Epidemiologists are also studying whether reducing the initial dose or delaying the second dose will affect the protection the vaccine offers as ways to get that first dose to people more quickly.
In addition, several other easier-to-administer vaccines are nearing approval, including one attenuated whole-virus vaccine developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca.