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Pima County begins delivering Pfizer COVID boosters, but cutting back on testing

Pfizer COVID-19 boosters are now available in Pima County for anyone eligible to receive them, but COVID testing will stop at the Abrams Public Health Center and new restrictions are in place at remaining testing sites, county health officials said.

Every county vaccine site started offering boosters this week to individuals who fit the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for eligibility. This includes mobile clinics and standing vaccination sites, but also local pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, which are not county-sponsored sites.

The Pima County Health Department is trying to deliver more than 100,000 booster shots a month until the end of January, but county health officials have said that the first week has been a slow start.

The rollout of boosters also meant that testing will have to stop at the Abrams Center. Vaccinators needed to stop testing to be able to deliver boosters, but the county is also trying to encourage more vaccination, county health officials said. Testing has also had to slow down due to a lack of state funding to support it, officials said.

Boosters have to be given at least six months after second vaccination shots. People who are eligible for boosters are:

  • People age 65 and up or residents in long-term care setting
  • People between 50 and 64 years old with an underlying medical condition
  • People between the ages of 18 and 49 years with an underlying medical condition based on their individual benefits and risks.
  • People between the ages of 18 and 64 years who are at increased risk for COVID-19 transmission and exposure at their work settings based on their individual benefits and risks.

Boosters are important for protecting immunity that might have weakened against COVID since second doses were given. Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department, said they’re critical for preventing COVID cases in the vaccinated, or breakthrough cases, and protecting at-risk individuals.

“While breakthrough cases of COVID-19 remain rare among vaccinated individuals, they happen, so we’re pleased to be able to offer this added layer of protection to those most at-risk,” she said. “On any given day, residents of Pima County can find literally dozens of sites in which they can get their first, second or third dose of this life-saving vaccine.”

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the Pfizer booster for use with at-risk individuals in late September but has not yet approved boosters to accompany the Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines.

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There are three standing county vaccination sites currently offering boosters and all three vaccine brands, each with different hours:

  • Theresa Lee Health Center: 1493 W. Commerce Court
    Monday, Tuesday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
    Wednesday: 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
    Friday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • North clinic: 3550 N. 1st Ave.
    Monday: 8 a.m.-noon
    Wednesday, Friday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
    Thursday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • East clinic: 6920 E. Broadway
    Monday, Thursday: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
    Tuesday: 8 a.m. to noon
    Friday: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

The Abrams Center, which currently offers testing and all three vaccine brands, will start offering boosters on Monday and stop testing after Saturday. Their location is 3950 S. Country Club Rd. and their hours, which have also changed, are Tuesdays to Fridays, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

People can still continue to get tested at other county sites, but new restrictions apply. People can no longer get free county testing if it’s required for work or if they’re not experiencing COVID symptoms.

Testing is still available for people aged 5 and older who have COVID symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. Testing can also be done with at-home test kits.

Anyone getting a booster should remember to bring their vaccination cards. People who have lost their card should look up the date of their second shot using the MyIR Mobile, the county advises.

A new card can be obtained by filling out an Immunization Records Request Form then emailing, faxing or mailing it back to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Courtesy of Pima County