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Pima expands COVID vaccinations to 'frontline' workers & 55-plus

Pima County will expand current vaccine eligibility to frontline workers and people 55 and older beginning Friday, March 12, county officials said. 

The move comes after the county successfully vaccinated more than half of those 65 and above, keeping the county in line with the state's plan to vaccinate people under a "hybrid" plan announced by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on March 1. Under the plan, the state began vaccinating both those 55 and older and essential frontline workers. 

"The expansion is the next step in getting more COVID-19 vaccines into the community," said Pima County officials. Under the previous phase, those aged 65 or older, as well as healthcare workers, educators, and protective service workers were eligible to register and receive their first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Those eligible for the vaccine are "high-risk" frontline essential workers, including people working in food and agriculture, manufacturing, grocery stores and convenience stores, bars and restaurants, as well as public transit workers. 

This also includes state and local government workers, as well as those working for the U.S. Postal Service, Pima County officials said. 

Pima County said it's also working "directly" with utility companies to provide vaccine for staff identified as "critical" for utilities such as water, gas, and electric.

"We realize that while some of these critical infrastructure employees will be covered in the frontline essential worker categories as local government workers, some others may not,” said Cullen. “We are working closely with those employers and vaccine partners to make sure we get them covered as this roll out happens."

The new phase will include about 100,000 people, and the county expects that appointments for this new group will be available in April.

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"As the new phase opens to first doses, the County is also working vaccine sites to balance the need for more first dose appointments with more than 100,000 people scheduled for second dose appointments over the next 4 weeks," county officials said. 

The county said that people can begin registering appointments on Friday at 9 a.m. at the county's website: www.pima.gov/covid19vaccine

People can also continue to schedule appointments for the state's supported sites, including the state-run site at the University of Arizona at https://podvaccine.azdhs.gov.

"This is our biggest group of newly eligible people so far and we understand that people will be very eager to register for an appointment as this phase opens up," said Dr. Theresa Cullen, Health Department Director. "The challenge will be trying to get vaccine to the most vulnerable people in this group as so many register for their spot in line."

"We are excited to be pushing forward at such a rapid pace,” said Cullen. “We will need the community to be patient as this very large group of newly eligible individuals register, but this is a great sign that we are doing the right things.”

COVID deaths continue in Arizona

Even as the state is expanding vaccinations and COVID-19 cases have been declining from their peak in mid-January, on Thursday morning, 60 more deaths were added to the count of Arizonans who have died from COVID-19, with more than 16,400 dead from the virus in the state in the past year.

In Pima County, 15 more residents have died from the infection, according to data from the Arizona Department of Health Services, with 2,285 in the county who have died from coronavirus in the past 12 months.

141 new infected people were reported Thursday here, among the 1,835 new cases reported statewide. There have been 830,000 Arizonans infected with the virus, with more than 110,000 Pima residents testing positive for COVID-19.

As of March 10, more than 323,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Pima County, and 130,000 people have been fully vaccinated, county officials said. This means the county has surpassed its goal of administering 300,000 doses by the end of March. 

The county warned that "despite the recent increase in vaccine supply coming" into Pima County, there may not be enough vaccine doses to keep up with the initial demand of adding this "large group." However, "as more vaccine becomes available, eligibility will expand to others who fall into the essential worker category." And, county officials said they will announce these expansions as "appointments and vaccine supply allow."

After weeks of rising dosage allocations, in mid-February the county had to cancel or reschedule vaccine appointments because its allocations were cut short by state officials. However, in the last two weeks that's changed, and on Monday, March 7, the county said it had received or was told it could expect more than 53,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 21,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, around 24,000 of the Moderna vaccine, and 8,200 of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Meanwhile, the site at the University of Arizona has received more than 49,000 doses in the last three weeks, as vaccine supplies have opened up after the Biden administration announced on Feb. 11 that it was working to purchase 100 million more doses of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. On Wednesday, the White House said it would also buy 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is easier for public health officials to use because unlike the first two vaccines, the new one only requires one dose, an aspect of the vaccine that has been called a "game changer" by public health officials.  

For all of the registration options in Pima County or to get more information about who is currently eligible for an appointment, visit: www.pima.gov/covid19vaccine

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Tucson receives his second vaccine dose during a mobile vaccination clinic on Saturday, March 6.

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