As one of Coconino County’s COVID-19 vaccine partner sites, Apricus Health Flagstaff Family Care Clinic has taken the phased priority groups to its own extreme.
Starting in late January, when it received its first 100 doses from the county, the clinic determined it would offer its allocation of the vaccine to its own patients—and only those age 75 and older.
“These are the people that are going to end up in the hospitals, taking up our hospital beds and using up all our resources,” said Practice Administrator Cindy Wade of the decision to offer vaccines to this group first. “These are the same people who are more likely to die from contracting the disease. Their death rate is much higher. That’s an entire generation. We can’t have that.”
Wade explained that the practice is allowed to choose specific groups to vaccinate, as long as they do not extend beyond the current state guidelines, so once appointments had been offered to the majority of its eldest patients, the practice then opened up vaccinations to patients age 65 and older, similar to Coconino County.
And so far, this prioritization of the clinic’s most vulnerable patients has worked.
As of Thursday, just days after a practice-wide phone call went out about appointment availability, the clinic was able to offer and provide vaccinations to every interested and unvaccinated member of its 65 and older patient population — of a group of 3,330 total people, 1,000 of which are over age 75.
“A lot of people went to Fort Tuthill and the Elks Lodge, but a lot of people waited for us because they wanted their primary care to do it,” said Blaire Johnson, the practice’s front office supervisor, who has been helping to schedule vaccination appointments. “So when we were finally able to start scheduling, the amount of appreciation that everyone had was astonishing. It’s really heartwarming to hear their reactions.”
Johnson said of all the eligible patients she notified about getting vaccinated at Flagstaff Family Care, only about five declined because they did not want the vaccine. Others declined because they had scheduled appointments elsewhere, though Johnson noted that some who had made appointments at the state vaccination site in Glendale canceled in favor of the local clinic.
Wade estimated that the practice has administered first doses to 750 of its patients directly. Second doses will begin this week.
“Probably 95% of our 65 and olders are vaccinated right now, whether they got it from us or elsewhere,” Wade said. “We would have kept doing it until they were done.”
Vaccinations have been occurring at the clinic’s Fourth Street location, where 10 parking spots are designated for drive-up vaccinations, allowing the practice to administer up to 250 doses a week.
Mary Lockhart and her husband, George, drove in from Williams on Thursday afternoon for their vaccine appointment.
“I have Dr. [Michelle] Doroz here, so that’s why I came,” Mary said, admitting that at first, she was hesitant to get the vaccine. “But now I feel like I’ll be safer. I want to get it while I can. I’ve been with medical staff here for 10 years and I trust them completely.”
Now that the clinic’s 65 and older group is complete, vaccinations have expanded to its high-risk patients, such as diabetics and those with heart failure, and to the people who live with them. Following this group, if the clinic is allocated additional vaccines from the county, Wade said it will open to the essential workers in the Phase 1b category.
Because of the speed at which the clinic was able to get through its vulnerable patients, she said she would recommend that other practices consider a similar prioritization within those they plan to vaccinate.
“You’ve got to set goals. When you’re just willy-nilly all over, there are people that are getting missed,” Wade said. “Our belief is that primary care takes care of their patients and this is part of it. We do MMRs for measles, we do chicken pox, we do children’s vaccines, why would we not be responsible for our adult vaccines, as well?”
As of Monday, 44,002 total COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Coconino County and 11,314 people are now fully vaccinated with at least one dose, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The county had to cancel its Monday and Tuesday first-dose appointments because of delays in receiving shipments, but so far, Wednesday's appointments have not been called off.
Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at email@example.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.