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Health chief: Arizona can meet Biden's May 1 vaccination directive

Arizona health officials say they are confident they can meet President Joe Biden’s directive that all adults be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1.

“May is a very doable timeline,” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ told reporters Friday, saying that the state is expecting to get a significant number of vaccines shipped to the state in April.

Arizona was already making plans to begin vaccinating Arizonans under the age of 35 by May 1, she said. Biden’s advisers have said that, by the end of April, enough people will have been vaccinated that restrictions will be able to be safely lifted.

COVID-19 cases in Arizona continue to decline, averaging 1,284 cases per day the past week, down from nearly 5,000 a month ago.

Vaccinations at state-run vaccination sites have mostly shifted to an age-based model where those in specific age groups are allowed to get the vaccine; currently, anyone 55 or older can get a shot. However, certain frontline essential workers are still eligible for the vaccine regardless of age, including those who work in the medical or education fields.

ADHS anticipates opening up vaccines to everyone older than 45 by April 1, but each county and the state can hit those goals sooner if between 55% of the current eligible age group becomes vaccinated. Certain counties have already hit those benchmarks.

For example, Greenlee and Gila county have both begun vaccinating their general population due in part to an excess of vaccine supply and to hitting their benchmarks.

The state is also expecting to begin using the new single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which could be rapidly deployed to vaccinate younger frontline workers, Christ said.

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Christ said the state’s plan is to get at least 70% of Arizona immunized against COVID-19, and is currently looking at opening up new vaccination sites in Yuma and Coconino counties. The state is currently operating two sites in Maricopa County and one in Pima County. Arizona is also looking at partnering with more pharmacies, providers and finding indoor locations to do larger vaccination events down the road, Christ said.

Christ also responded to criticism from some who have said that Gov. Doug Ducey lifted restrictions on dining in the state too early.

“We are still pretty confident about the mitigation strategies that are in place,” Christ said, adding that mandatory masking and social distancing were helpful strategies to help prevent the spread of the virus. The criticism of Ducey, she said, is not valid.

A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that states that reopened dining had increases in case and death rate within 41 to 80 days of reopening.

More than 831,000 Arizonans have contracted COVID so far and more than 16,500 have lost their lives to the virus. On March 12, Arizona reported 1,367 new cases and 55 deaths.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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Parker Michels-Boyce | Virginia Mercury/States Newsroom

The state is expecting to begin using the new single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.