The lobby of the City of Nogales Recreation Center, which has been serving as the county’s ad-hoc COVID-19 vaccination clinic, was empty on Thursday. As the sign on the door notes, all vaccine appointments scheduled there this week were postponed.

Santa Cruz County’s COVID-19 vaccination effort suffered a setback this week when bad weather in the eastern part of the country derailed the anticipated arrival of 1,800 new doses.

As a result, all appointments scheduled for this week at the vaccine clinic at the City of Nogales Recreation Center were postponed until the week beginning Feb. 22.

Now, assuming that the winter storms abate enough over the next few days to allow delivery of this week’s doses – as well as the doses allotted for next week – the county government and Mariposa Community Health Center are preparing to handle twice the usual work load at the clinic during the coming week.

Dr. Eladio Pereira, chief medical officer at MCHC, acknowledged the logistical challenges of potentially giving two weeks worth of shots in one week. But speaking Thursday morning, when it was still uncertain when the vaccines might arrive, he said the plan was to add more staff and an extra appointment day next Saturday.

“It’s certainly an issue for us, but we don’t want to get behind,” he said, adding later: “There’s nothing more important to do right now than to vaccinate.”

Of the 1,800 vaccines expected this week, local authorities had earmarked 1,300 as second doses for people who received their first shot a month ago. In a news release issued Wednesday announcing that this week’s appointments were being rescheduled, the county said: “It is important to note that all rescheduled appointments will meet the Moderna clinical guidelines for the second dose timeframe.”

According to information posted to the Centers for Disease Control website, people should receive two doses of the Moderna vaccine at least 28 days apart.

“Second doses should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible,” the CDC says, adding: “There is no maximum interval between the first and second dose.”

Winter storms have disrupted vaccination efforts not only in Santa Cruz County, but across Arizona and the rest of the nation as cold, snow and ice have led to transportation delays, widespread power outages and facility closures. In a statement Tuesday, the CDC warned: “Due to the severe winter weather currently impacting a large swath of the country, the U.S. government is projecting widespread delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries over the next few days.”

Indoors only

On Feb. 8, the county and MCHC tried out a drive-through vaccination option at the Recreation Center to potentially augment the walk-through clinic in the center’s gymnasium. But as Santa Cruz County prepares to bounce back from the vaccine shipment delays next week, Pereira said the drive-through option won’t be used to increase capacity.

That’s because they found the drive-through to be less efficient than the indoor clinic, due to the space constraints around the Recreation Center.

“We’re going to do everything indoors. We’ll just have more vaccinators, we’ll have more people helping us and we’ll do our best to vaccinate people indoors,” Pereira said of next week’s plan. “I think in the future, if we get a larger allocation, we’ll be prepared to move to a different venue that can accommodate drive-through. But for next week, it’s just too soon to prepare for that.”

He also noted that the weather could cause problems for a drive-through operation. “Indoors will protect both our patients and our staff,” he said.

State data published Thursday showed that 8,779 people had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Cruz County, with 1,767 people having been fully vaccinated with two doses.

The county is currently vaccinating people in the 1A and 1B priority groups, though it is focusing on certain 1B subgroups, including people 75 and older, teachers, public safety officers and produce import employees. Other 1B subgroups, including people ages 65-74 or those working in “essential” industries other than produce, can preregister for a vaccine online, but they do not yet have top priority for an appointment.

In its announcement this week about the vaccination delays, the county said that people with appointments scheduled for this week would be notified of the postponement and informed of their rescheduled appointment date and time by phone.

For more information, contact the County Health Department at (520) 375-7626.

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