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Local COVID-19 vaccine demand remains high as cases rise
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Local COVID-19 vaccine demand remains high as cases rise

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COVID-19 vaccinations are ongoing in Coconino County, with more doses and appointments expected soon to meet the high demand seen among priority groups as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

On Monday, Coconino County Health and Human Services (CCHHS) reported an additional 451 positive COVID-19 cases from Friday, bringing the county’s cumulative total to 13,876. The week ending Jan. 9 broke all previous records with 1,260 new positive cases, about four times the cases recorded each week during the first local spike last summer.

Coconino County has met the benchmarks for substantial community transmission of COVID-19 for six weeks, said epidemiologist Matthew Maurer, and hospitals are nearing capacity for COVID-19 patients. Flagstaff Medical Center reported 68 COVID-19 patients Monday, down from 71 over the weekend.

As of the latest vaccine report released Friday, 6,613 vaccine doses have been administered throughout the region, with an additional 962 doses reserved for appointments.

On Jan. 8 CCHHS expanded vaccinations to certain individuals in the Phase 1b category — education workers, law enforcement personnel and those aged 75 or older. However, all 1,600 available first dose appointments at the Fort Tuthill vaccination site were full within six hours of the announcement.

This group comprises about 16% of Coconino County’s population, or about 22,000 people, said Kim Musselman, Interim Health and Human Services Director, in a presentation to the Coconino County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. At the time, she said the county had enough vaccine to cover a third of this group.

Following state guidance, last week CCHHS added individuals age 65 and older to this priority group. This group was previously in the Phase 1c category. Although federal guidance suggested the expansion of this group to also include individuals with underlying health conditions, CCHHS officials say they have yet to receive more information from the state health department about beginning to vaccinate this group.

Appointments remain full at Fort Tuthill, though CCHHS division manager Sarah Schildecker said cancellations are occurring and residents should check the CCHHS website or call the COVID-19 Information Line (928-679-7300) to check for available appointments. She said additional local vaccination sites are expected to be added this week and any Arizona resident in Phase 1a or 1b also has the option to be vaccinated at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale.

“We are only able to immunize as a county with the amount of vaccine that we have and the amount of availability of appointments. We’re always going to be weighing that and will be limited by those constraints but we have been told we should be receiving more vaccine soon,” Schildecker said.

If the federal government chooses to release additional vaccine doses all at once, Schildecker said though future allocations will be increased, supplies will remain limited. The local health department will likely decide when to progress to the next stages of vaccine allocation, in a manner similar to its latest expansion to Phase 1b groups.

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“We have to have people signing up [for appointments], so when we see that we have availability, both the capacity with ourselves and our partners, then it’s time to make that determination to move on to the next phase because ultimately what we don’t want are empty appointments because that’s a vaccine waste in and of itself right there. That’s an opportunity for someone to be immunized that would miss because we were sitting in one priority category instead of another,” she said.

Northern Arizona Healthcare

As of Monday morning, Northern Arizona Healthcare has vaccinated 2,316 people at Flagstaff Medical Center and 822 at Verde Valley Medical Center, organization leaders said in a media briefing. This group is primarily NAH employees, but also includes several hundred eligible community members.

The first group of employees who received the vaccine in late December will be returning this week for their second dose, which chief quality officer Dr. John Mougin said serves to double an individual’s immunity to the disease.

NAH leaders plan to open a Flagstaff vaccine clinic in early February for community members who fall into eligible priority groups and expect to be able to administer a few thousand doses each week among its various locations. Like other vaccine sites in the county, this one will use online scheduling.

“There is no better way that we could improve the health of our communities than participating with partners like the county and NAU and vaccinating the greatest number of people that we possibly can,” said NAH CEO Flo Spyrow.

The healthcare organization has been notifying members of the Phase 1a and 1b priority groups of vaccination opportunities directly through employers. Mougin said all doses are currently spoken for and appointments are full; more doses are scheduled to arrive Tuesday, but most will be used for people in need of their second doses.

“This week was the first time we asked for more vaccine than we were able to get allocated, yet we have enough allocated to take care of our second shots and some new first shots,” Mougin said. “We would like even more because the sooner we get more doses, the sooner we can get it out there to people.”

Among NAH employees who have opted to receive the first dose of the vaccine, side effects have included soreness, redness or a rash at the injection site; headaches; and mild muscle aches or joint pains. Mougin said a few allergic reactions have also occurred, which NAH will be monitoring for and prepared to treat at its upcoming vaccine sites.

Health officials are encouraging those who have been vaccinated to continue to practice COVID-19 safety protocols because they could still be transmitting the coronavirus without showing symptoms.

“We all still have a role to play, to do your part to help decrease this transmission,” Maurer said. “Please avoid large crowds when in public, please wear your mask, distance yourself from others at least six feet, wash your hands and/or sanitize often and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and please do not go out if you are not feeling well or if you have been in contact with somebody that has a COVID-19 infection. And of course, when it’s your turn to get this vaccine, please do get vaccinated.”

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253.

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