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Arizona ramps up CV-19 vaccine push with new sites for next phase

UA plans to become vaccination site, Glendale stadium plans for 24/7 vaccinations

As Arizona ramps up its vaccine efforts, the University of Arizona will become a distribution point for the COVID-19 vaccine, allowing UA faculty, staff and some volunteers to receive vaccinations during the next phase.

The announcement was one of a series of efforts announced by state and local officials as coronavirus cases continue to spike after the holidays in Arizona, leading the state to become the region with the highest per capita rate of cases of any region in the world. 

On Friday, the number of cases in the state hit a record 11,658 cases, and data from Johns Hopskins University shows that Arizona now has an average of 126.4 cases per 100,000 people over a weekly average. Overall, the United States has nearly 22 million cases, far outstripping the next closest country India, which has roughly four times as many people. 

In an email to staff, UA President Robert C. Robbins wrote that the Pima County Health Department has tasked the university with immunizing residents who qualify under Phase 1B. According to the state's vaccination plan, this phase includes education and childcare workers, members of "protective services," which includes police and firefighters, adults 75 and older, workers at critical industry and essential services, and adults with high-risk conditions in congregate settings. 

Robbins did not say when the UA will begin vaccinating people on campus during the new phase, rather campus officials will provide registration information and start date, "as soon as we have a University process solidified. "Bear down and mask up," Robbins wrote. 

The UA will spin-up a vaccination task force, and is using the some of the testing experts who developed a system for COVID-19 testing on campus, Robbins said. "This team is now working on logistics" for the campus for people who can receive the vaccine under Phase 1B, Robbins said. People who qualify for Phase 1A—which includes medical providers, emergency medical services, and long-term care residents and staff—can request a vaccine from Pima County Health. 

By Friday, 123,862 Arizonans had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 2,127 people are fully vaccinated after they received two doses of the vaccine. The state now has more than 180 vaccination sites, and that number is "expanding steadily," state health officials said. And, a partnership with the CDC has made visits to nearly 80 skilled-nursing facilities as part of the first phase of the vaccinations, and "dozens more " are scheduled through the end of the month. 

On Wednesday, Pima County officials said they were moving to expand vaccinations, and move into Phase 1B  by next week with the aim of finishing the second stage by the end of March. This will include a regional vaccination site in the parking lot south of Kino Stadium, at 2500 E. Ajo Way, by the end of next week, officials said. They hope to scale up Kino, and three other facilities to deliver thousands vaccinations per day.

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"These are logistically complicated operations," said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county's chief medical officer. "We would like to get one set up, get it going and well-established, and then plan for the second, third and more sites. We’re going to be doing this in phased way, and this is what you’ll see us doing in the next few weeks," he said. 

Medical personnel interested in volunteering to help can register through the Medical Reserve Corps of Southern Arizona, and apply to deliver vaccines. 

Meanwhile, the governor's office announced that the state will open a 24/7 vaccination site on Monday at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and said the CDC is giving the state nearly $66 million to support vaccine clinics, and "strengthen vaccine confidence and community engagement." 

"We want to get Arizonans vaccinated as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible," said Governor Doug Ducey. "There’s no time to waste. COVID-19 is spreading, our medical professionals are working around the clock, and Arizonans who want the vaccine deserve to get it without delay. The funding from the CDC will help amp up vaccine distribution, reach communities in need, and protect Arizonans from the virus. My thanks to the CDC for the continued support, and to our medical professionals and frontline workers who continue to step up and help others." 

On Dec. 30, Ducey ordered ADHS to create a "state-directed" model for delivery of vaccines, overriding the plans of the counties throughout the state. Ducey complained that "any delay in the vaccine getting to Arizonans, any dose that sits in a freezer rather than reaching the arm of a health care worker or long-term care resident, carries too great a cost." 

 The executive order shifted vaccinations from county-set implementation plans to a single "state-directed allocation model" run by ADHS to "ensure a uniform approach to the vaccination of high-risk and high-priority Arizonans."

The CDC funding will help the state connect with communities that may "face difficulties reaching a vaccine site," engage with communities that have a "low confidence in vaccines," and work to provide "safe and equitable vaccine distribution'" in the state. The funding will include efforts to increase vaccinations in tribal nations, and develop community engagement strategies to promote vaccinations.

"Today’s funding from the CDC will further help Arizona get more people vaccinated and slow the spread of COVID-19," said Dr. Cara Christ, the Arizona Department of Health Services Director. "We have worked hard to make sure medical professionals, those in congregate settings, and other vulnerable individuals get vaccinated, and we are thrilled to use this funding to strengthen our efforts. My thanks to the CDC for supporting our efforts in Arizona." 

The effort in Glendale is supported in part by a $1 million grant from the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation and with support from the Arizona Cardinals, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Arizona State University, and the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs, the governor's office said. 

 ADHS will set up the site to vaccinate thousands in Maricopa County as the state's largest county moves into Phase 1B, officials said. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Sayea Jenabzadeh, a nurse anesthetist at Banner Health, winces as she receives her vaccine at Banner Health University Medical Center North on Dec. 17, 2020.