Santa Cruz County this week began vaccinating people that qualify for COVID-19 inoculation as teachers or produce workers, officials said on Wednesday.
In a news release, the county said it was expanding eligibility to another two subgroups in the 1B priority category: educators and childcare workers, and “essential workers.”
It had previously limited 1B eligibility to law enforcement officers and people 75 and older. But speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Jeff Terrell, the county’s director of health services, said that most people in the 75-and-older category had already been vaccinated and some people in the new subgroups had been given a shot as early as Tuesday.
Terrell estimated that the total number of people in the educator/childcare and essential worker subgroups could add up to 20,000 or more in Santa Cruz County. Therefore, the county is giving first priority to teachers and produce workers, and has begun working with school districts and the produce industry to register their employees for vaccination.
That means other members of those subgroups will still have to wait, including childcare workers and others in “essential” industries, such as power and utility workers; state or local government employees that provide critical services for the continuity of government; transportation and material moving occupations; other essential employees (business and financial services, supply chain for critical goods, funeral services, critical trades, etc.).
The expanded eligibility also doesn’t include other subgroups listed under the 1B priority category, such as people aged 65-74 – a group totaling approximately 10,000 individuals in Santa Cruz County, according to county government estimates.
State and federal health authorities recommended expanding vaccination to that age group earlier this month, but Terrell said the county didn’t want to reverse the prioritization schedule it had already established. He added that most other Arizona counties have not opened vaccination to the 65-74 age group.
All people in priority group 1B can still pre-register for the vaccine on the county's website, where approximately 8,300 people had signed up as of Tuesday. But unlike 75-and-older residents who signed up for a vaccine in recent weeks, newly eligible groups won’t be given vaccination appointments on a first-come, first-served basis.
Terrell said that the county would continue choosing subgroups to prioritize as vaccination progresses, but hadn’t made those choices yet.
“Say we pull out all the transportation (workers)… We may take those people that are working in that group and we may do it by age – take 65-and-older that are still working, we may prioritize that group, then we may drop it down to 50 and above. It depends.”
Those who have already pre-registered for a vaccine don’t need to take any additional steps once their subgroup becomes eligible, the county said in its news release. They will receive a call once an appointment becomes available for them.
People who don’t have internet access can call (520) 375-7626 to pre-register.
Terrell said the county is expecting an allotment of 1,400 vaccine doses next week. In addition, this week’s shipment of 1,800 doses, which wasn’t delivered on Monday as expected, did arrive on Tuesday, which was still in time for those who had signed up for an appointment to get the shot. (Terrell said there were some no-shows on Tuesday, but those were related to the weather conditions.)
In the first few weeks of vaccination – the end of December and beginning of January – it appeared that local medical providers were struggling to put shots into arms as fast as doses were arriving. By now, the bottleneck seems to be in the delivery of new doses.
“If they (state health authorities) want to give us 20,000 doses, then we’ll include everybody,” Terrell said. “But since they don’t, we can’t.”
Data posted Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services listed 3,901 vaccine doses given so far in Santa Cruz County. The vast majority of the shots given here have been first doses, though some people in Phase 1A of the vaccine plan – primarily medical professionals – began receiving their first doses in late December and are now receiving their second dose of the two-shot inoculation.