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As case numbers increase second week in a row, vaccine supply overtakes demand for first time
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As case numbers increase second week in a row, vaccine supply overtakes demand for first time

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Worth a Snowy Wait

Alex Morgan, 20, and Jacon Gopp, 19, wait at the end of a snowy line for their first COVID-19 vaccine in late March after Coconino County opened up vaccination appointments to everyone 18 years and older. At one point more than 100 people were lined up in the winter weather waiting at the Elks Lodge vaccination center.

Last week, new cases of COVID-19 increased for the second week in a row in Coconino County.

The increase came alongside news that for the first time, the county this week has more doses of the vaccine than appointments to administer them.

County Health and Human Services Director Kim Musselman said even after sending additional doses to community and healthcare partners for their own inoculation efforts across the county, based on the supply they have and demand they are seeing at the Fort Tuthill location, the county still had a surplus supply.

The development marks a new era for the county’s vaccination efforts. It could mean the populations that were easily convinced have received vaccines as the county puts more emphasis on vaccine outreach to more hesitant populations.

“Now we're in a really unique phase. […] We know there’s still a lot of people who have to be vaccinated, and we're also at a point in time where we have thousands of appointments sitting available,” Musselman told the Coconino County Board of Supervisors this week. “So now the transition is how do we find out where the folks who haven’t been vaccinated are and how do we get to them.”

Musselman said the county will be looking at more ways to reach out into communities to offer the vaccines. That may mean holding vaccination events in outlying communities or specific neighborhoods, or simply small pop-up events with business.

And those vaccination efforts have even more importance given the potential for increased spread of the virus.

Musselman told the Coconino County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that county health officials were not surprised by the slight increase in cases. But Musselman said she hopes the jump represents only an aberration and not a trend.

The increase comes after the county had seen a radical drop in the number of new COVID-19 cases between the end of January and the end of March.

Musselman said the slight increase is likely due in part to the return of in-person schooling after spring break.

“We are hoping this doesn’t continue to spike even more, especially coming off of an Easter weekend,” Musselman said. “Again, we just continue to stress the importance of those mitigation measures: wearing a mask in public and in medium- to large-sized groups. You are protecting yourselves and our community from the spread of COVID as it is in fact very much alive and well.”

At this point, Musselman said, most of the spread of COVID-19 is by two variants of the virus first seen in California. Both variants are considered noteworthy but seem to respond in a similar way to the vaccines as the base virus.

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They are able to track the variants because of the work of TGen North and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, as well as the Arizona Department of Health Services. All three organizations are conducting DNA sequencing on new positive case samples to determine the strain of the virus.

Musselman said TGen has found about 109 samples of those California variants -- which is why they have declared that variant the predominant version of the virus in the county.

So far, none of the new variants of COVID-19 have been classified as “high consequence” or have been found to be significantly more resistant to the vaccines.

The head of the CDC says the COVID variant first identified in the United Kingdom is now the most common strain in the United States.This variant is more transmissible and infectious among younger Americans and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky says that's contributing to rising case counts in recent weeks.She's urging people to get vaccinated to stop the spread.

But a variant that is resistant could be found, and Musselman said it is for that reason that continued vaccination efforts are of such importance as national and local officials hope to reduce the spread of the virus before a new variant undoes that work.

In its vaccination efforts, the county is also starting to track vaccination data by ZIP code. And that has given them a view of what areas they may need to focus on in terms of vaccinations going forward.

In Flagstaff, about 27% of the population has been fully vaccinated, having received either two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or one dose of Johnson & Johnson. In the 86001 ZIP code, 21% of the population has received the vaccine while in the 86004 ZIP code, that number is at 29%.

And 37% of Flagstaff’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

In Page, 38% of the population has been fully vaccinated, while 46% have received at least one dose.

The populations of tribal communities within the county are 33% fully vaccinated, with 38% having received at least one dose.

At the Grand Canyon, 30% of the population has been fully vaccinated, with 42% having received at least one dose.

So far, Williams is coming in last with just 19% of the population fully vaccinated and 30% of the population having received at least one dose.

Lastly, in unincorporated areas, vaccination rates are fairly high. About 46% of those residents are fully vaccinated while 68% have received at least one dose.

Adrian Skabelund can be reached by phone at (928) 556-2261, by email at askabelund@azdailysun.com or on Twitter at @AdrianSkabelund. 

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