The Arizona Department of Health Services detailed plans on Friday to roll out doses of COVID-19 vaccine across Arizona in the coming weeks.
Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ announced the state is projecting to receive 383,750 doses of vaccine by the end of the year, with initial doses arriving around December 15. The projections are contingent on both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines gaining the necessary approval from the FDA.
The doses expected to arrive in Arizona would go towards the first dose for people receiving one of the two vaccines, as they both require a second follow-up dose several weeks later for full effectiveness.
“A vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we have a long way to go before there’s enough vaccine for everybody who wants one,” Dr. Christ said.
The vaccine will become available first for people in higher-risk groups and occupations. Known as group 1A, frontline healthcare workers and those at long-term care facilities will be at the front of the line. Dr. Christ said, logistics depending, people in those groups should have an opportunity to get the initial vaccine dose by early January.
Next in line would be group 1B, with teachers, school staff and childcare providers prioritized in that group, along with members of law enforcement, among others.
“We anticipate that we will probably be getting to some of those highly prioritized, our teachers, our childcare workers, our education occupations, as well as our protective services, probably around the beginning of January,” Dr. Christ said.
Vaccine doses will continue to arrive in Arizona as the weeks progress, and the number of locations to receive it will continue to expand,
Thus far, 359 provider locations have been approved and are able to receive vaccines, with more than a thousand additional locations going through the process.
Dr. Christ said the vaccine may not be available for the general population until March or April.
“It’s probably going to be the Summer, early Fall before everybody who wants it has had an opportunity to go get it and go get both doses,” Dr. Christ said. “What we don’t know is how long that immunity lasts and if it’s going to be something like a flu shot where you have to go get it every so often.”
As the Arizona Department of Health Services works out vaccination distribution plans, HonorHealth is planning ahead and preparing as well.
HonorHealth recently held a test run of drive-thru COVID vaccine distribution near Loop 101 and I-17 Friday.
HonorHealth went through the critical motions at a site where thousands of doses of the coronavirus vaccine are soon to be injected into the arms of frontline workers.
“There are a lot of pieces that go into the logistics of this, from when the parked cars pull in, to when they get directed to a lane to when they get registered, to getting vaccinated, waiting and exiting,” said Lyndsey Cunningham, director of ambulatory quality improvement.
Every step of the process is timed down to the second in a search for inefficiencies that can be ironed out prior to the vaccine’s arrival.
Hospital systems have been told to prepare to begin administering it as early as December 15.
The vaccines will be stored in a secure location on site, inside six massive subzero freezers. They’ll keep the vaccine around minus 80 degrees Celsius with enough room inside each to store thousands of doses.
“That vaccine is stored within a secure room, that secured room is stored within a secure building, that secure building is on a secure location of HonorHealth, in addition, we’ll have other security measures, surveillance cameras,” said Todd Larson, Vice President of Workplace and Public Safety.
Donna Jackson is one of dozens of volunteers playing the part of a patient for the 85 or so site employees for the practice run-through.
“For the frontline workers this is extremely important because they have worked tirelessly and are exposed much more than the rest of us,” said Jackson.
“It’s really to anticipate any issues we might have with traffic flow in and out of the event, and to give people a chance to practice what they’ll be doing that day,” said Dr. John Pope, chief medical officer for HonorHealth.
Once patients receive the vaccine, they’ll pull their car into an observation area where they’ll be monitored by healthcare workers for fifteen minutes for possible adverse effects.
State health officials say the initial supply of the vaccine is just under 400,000 doses by the end of the year. But how many each drive-thru site receives is still being calculated.
“We will adjust the size and scope of the event depending on how many doses we receive, so if we receive a ton of them, we’re ready to run this event up to 10 to 15 days,” said Cunningham.
The hope is to vaccinate more than 1,000 people every day once up and running. She says it’s training events like Friday’s that will ensure all goes to plan.
Healthcare workers and first responders eligible for the first round of vaccines will use an app called “Twistle”, developed by HonorHealth to start the process.
“It’s an app where employees or first responders and others that are up first, they’ll answer a series of questions on their job role and amount of exposure,” said Dr. Pope. “Based on that we prioritize from highest risk down and then as we get doses, they get another email to go into our electronic medical record and schedule their two doses of vaccine. After they get each dose, we’re monitoring them on a pathway to their cell phone about side effects and supporting them anyway we need to after the vaccine.”
So how willing are frontline healthcare workers and those that work around vulnerable residents in assisted living facilities to be among the first to get this new vaccine?
At Quail Park at Morrison Ranch, staff tell us this is the light at the end of the tunnel. The facility recently had to go into lockdown again due to new cases of COVID-19 surfacing in the community.
Dawn Milburn, a spokeswoman for the facility who also works directly with staff and residents, tells us she plans to be among the first in line as soon as the vaccine is available.
“Every day I just pray I don’t bring it in to my residents. I take all of the precautions, but nothing is fool-proof,” said Milburn.
During a recent staff meeting, Milburn said they learned Chandler-Gilbert Community College will be getting 36,000 doses of the vaccine to distribute to hospital staff, skilled nurses, and those working in long term care and assisted living facilities.
According to Milburn, this would be by appointment only, and it could happen as early as December 16. She added that every single one of their staff members planned to get the vaccine. It was not being made mandatory, but they had not heard from anyone who had raised concerns about not wanting to get the vaccine at their facility.
“It is in the back of my mind that this is a new vaccine, but every single side effect or risk that I have heard about so far does not outweigh the risk of getting COVID and bringing it into my facility and exposing all of the vulnerable people I am around here,” said Milburn.