Vaccination clinics in Santa Cruz County may soon expand to include the next two subgroups within the 1B priority phase, depending on the allotment quantities handed down by the state in the next few weeks, the county manager said on Monday.
Speaking during a meeting of the Santa Cruz Valley Citizens Council – a Tubac-based nonprofit that informs its members on local issues – County Manager Jennifer St. John gave members a briefing about the county’s vaccination efforts thus far and expectations for the following weeks.
She said county officials expected to vaccinate between 20,000 to 25,000 people total. That’s only about half of the county’s population, but more than a quarter of local residents are under 18, according to U.S. Census estimates, and the Moderna vaccine that’s currently being distributed here is only authorized for people 18 and older.
As of Monday, state data showed that just over 10,300 vaccines had gone into people’s arms in Santa Cruz County, with 8,584 people having received at least one dose. It wasn’t clear if those numbers included the doses that Walgreens has recently begun administering here through a federal program.
The county so far has prioritized people in the 1A group – such as health care workers – and certain 1B subgroups, including public safety employees, teachers, workers in “essential” industries such as produce distribution, and people 75 or older.
“We feel like we’re at about 40 percent vaccinated already,” St. John said, adding: “Moving forward, if we continue receiving the 1,800 (weekly doses) or plus, any additional allocations can go to open up the 65 and over, and the adults with high risk,” she said.
She explained that the county expected to receive an allotment of 1,800 vaccines on Tuesday, 1,300 of which are destined to be second doses.
As for those community members 65 and older or with underlying health conditions who are still waiting on their first dose, their appointments depend on how many vaccines Santa Cruz County can get, and how soon they can get them.
“If we have 1,800 new shots, we can get through the categories pretty quickly,” St. John said of the next priority groups. “But if we have 400 new shots, that’s going to take significantly longer, as you all can imagine.”
She added that officials have been advocating at the state level to receive larger allotments for Santa Cruz County, emphasizing their efficiency in distributing the vaccines. Local leaders have also made it clear that the Mariposa Community Health Center is equipped and ready to receive the vaccines made by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which require special cold storage equipment.
With the Presidents’ Day national holiday being recognized on Monday and icy weather conditions affecting the Memphis distribution center that ships the Moderna vaccines to Nogales, local officials were warned that this week’s shipment of Moderna vaccines could be delayed.
Though experts recommend that individuals receive their second dose 28 days after their first, St. John said it is still safe for individuals to wait up to 42 days before receiving the second half of their inoculations.
“I mean that makes my heart skip a beat, but we don’t anticipate not getting any (doses) this week,” she said. “We will do whatever we need to do to get those in arms as quickly as possible.”
St. John said they imagined the delay would only push scheduled appoints back by a few days, and Mariposa Community Health Center workers might have to extend vaccinations to Saturday to catch up.
Arizona, as a whole, is falling short on vaccine allotments due to the fact that its county population counts didn’t take into account the winter-season visitors, also known as snowbirds, who call the state their home during the colder months.
In addition, St. John reminded the Santa Cruz Valley Citizens Council members, federal law enforcement workers who live outside of Santa Cruz County, but who are getting vaccinated here, have not been taken into account when it comes to local allotments.
But even if the state were to grant Santa Cruz larger allocations of vaccine doses, the county is unlikely to open additional distribution clinics due to the numbers of staff and volunteers involved.
“It’s a lot of manpower to get anywhere other than where we are right now,” she said, adding that the clinic at the City of Nogales Recreation Center was being managed by about 70 workers and volunteers. “We can’t operate efficiently and separate them, so we would need to stand up a whole other 70 people.”
Still, she said that the Tubac zip code was the most vaccinated area within Santa Cruz County, according to information gathered by county officials.
County and MCHC officials planned to discuss this week how and when they will expand to the 65 and older age range, as well as high-risk individuals.
St. John said they expected to send out a news release with more information this Thursday, but cautioned the public to remain patient and cautious.
“We think more vaccines will become available, but we just want to be conservative so as to not get more of a positive message out there than we can deliver,” she said, adding that it may still be weeks before people in the next priority categories start getting called in.
“That’s my fear, that it’s going to give this expectation that everybody is going to get called,” she said.