The state government announced Monday that it was throwing open the door to its vaccination sites in Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties and would allow any Arizona resident 16 or older to be inoculated against COVID-19 at those locations starting Wednesday.
County Health Services Director Jeff Terrell couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday, so it wasn’t immediately clear if Santa Cruz County, where authorities have been working to vaccinate essential workers and people 65 or older, might consider a similar approach.
But Dr. Eladio Pereira, chief medical officer for the Mariposa Community Health Center, which has been spearheading the administration of COVID-19 vaccines in the community, said he hadn’t heard any indication that the county was preparing to drop its current priority system.
And he wasn’t especially keen on the state’s approach being implemented here.
“We still have a sizable number of people who are older, with chronic conditions, and we’d like to target those first,” Pereira said.
He noted that recent reports have shown how states that were quick to expand eligibility faced problems. For example, a story published on Sunday by The Associated Press reported that the rapid expansion of vaccine eligibility “caused a surge in demand too big for some states to handle and led to serious disarray.”
As Pereira put it: “If you open it to 18 and over too soon, you create the expectation that you have enough vaccines, when the reality is we don’t have enough vaccines.”
The inclusion of younger, technologically savvy people in the vaccination pool can also result in those people being vaccinated faster than older, high-risk people with limited tech access, he said.
In a news release announcing the state’s decision to expand eligibility, Gov. Doug Ducey said the change had been made following a “thorough review of vaccination data, anticipated vaccine supply and current demand among prioritized groups.” Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), said: “We anticipate more and more vaccines reaching Arizona heading into April, making it possible now to expand prioritization.”
According to Capitol Media Services, Christ added during a news conference on Monday that counties that run their own vaccine programs can still stick with their own priority system if they believe there is still high demand among those most vulnerable, whether due to age, medical condition or occupation.
ADHS data published Monday showed that approximately 1.83 million people had been given at least one vaccine dose in Arizona, and that nearly 1.14 million had been fully vaccinated. With a U.S. Census estimated population of 7.28 million, that meant a little more than 25 percent of the state’s population had received one shot and 15.6 percent had been fully vaccinated.
In Santa Cruz County, which has an estimated population of approximately 46,500, the number of people who had been given at least one vaccine dose was 14,486, or a little more than 31.2 percent of the population. Just under 9,000 people had been fully vaccinated, according to state data, which translates to 19.1 percent of the population.
However, some of the doses administered in Santa Cruz County have been given to out-of-county residents, particularly federal law enforcement officers who work here but live elsewhere.
In terms of the current state of the pandemic, data posted Monday by the Santa Cruz County Health Services Department showed 58 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the community during previous week. That was a far cry from the 400 or more new cases per week reported in December and early January, but still more than in recent weeks.
During the previous four-week period, the county averaged 27.8 new cases per week.
The county’s total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic was 7,712 as of Monday.
Also during the week leading up to Monday, the county confirmed one new death related to COVID-19 and seven additional hospitalizations. That brought Santa Cruz County’s pandemic totals to 172 deaths and 541 hospitalizations.
During the previous four weeks, the county averaged 1.5 deaths and 2.75 hospitalizations per seven-day period.
In Nogales, Sonora, there had been 4,408 confirmed cases and 484 deaths from COVID-19 as of Sunday, according to the state health department. Those figures represented one-week increases of 34 cases and four deaths.