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Ineligible walk-ups getting COVID vaccine at Tucson site due to scheduling problems
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Ineligible walk-ups getting COVID vaccine at Tucson site due to scheduling problems

COVID-19 vaccinations, Pima County

Needles containing the Moderna vaccine in the Tucson Medical Center drive-thru tent at, on Jan. 5, 2021.

With only about 130 appointments scheduled in the computer system on both Wednesday and Thursday, workers at the Tucson Convention Center vaccination site opened it up to walk-ups for certain age groups.  

Initially on Thursday, the TCC, 260 S. Church Ave., was taking those ages 65-plus in addition to K12 and higher education teachers, as well as protective service workers and licensed childcare workers.

However, that was cut back to those aged 70-plus before noon, when the line had become several hours long.

Under Pima County guidelines, people ages 65 to 75 are currently not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines unless they have one of the jobs that now qualify, such as in protective services or education. 

County officials said in a news release Thursday that the ineligible walk-ups were given the vaccine so that doses wouldn't be wasted.

But they said they're trying to handle the situation differently and to get the word out that only the 75-plus age group, plus other people in certain qualifying jobs — the 1B priority category — are currently eligible for the vaccine in Pima County.

The county health department's news release said:

"Despite the ability to register for ample appointments available at TCC, educators and protective services 1B priority qualifiers have not been choosing TCC that often, only a few hundred a day when the site can handle as many as 1,500 a day."

Officials said they are working to fill the appointments with other people in the currently eligible 1B priority group.

Another issue, the news release said, is that at the end of the day at the TCC, "there are occasionally 'left over' doses in vaccine vials. To prevent wasting those doses, TCC has been vaccinating people who had learned from Social Media that they could hang around the TCC late in the day and they might be able get vaccinated. That has ranged each day from a few dozen people to none. 

"The TCC scheduling problem, combined with the end of the day shots, has created the public impression that 'anyone' can walk up at the TCC and get vaccinated.

"Social media also has played a prominent role in encouraging people to go to the TCC to get vaccinated, including those over 65 the past few days.

"The City, rather than turn people away, chose to vaccinate people over 65 who were in line as long as it had available vaccine. That also has been spread on social media as an official change in County vaccination policy.

"This is incorrect. You currently must be an educator, in protective services, or older than 75 to get vaccinated at the TCC.

"However, because the line has gotten so long today, Feb. 4, at the TCC, the County is allowing people over 70 who are already in line to get vaccinated. Anyone between the ages of 65 and 69 will instead be asked to register for a vaccine appointment that will become available when that priority group opens.

"We’re sorry for the confusion about who can get vaccinated at the TCC, however the ultimate goal of the county is to get as many people vaccinated in the current priority groups as fast as possible so we can move on to the next priority group. Making sure as many people as possible in the 1B priority groups could get shots at the TCC helps achieve that goal.

"We implore the public to get its information about vaccinations in Pima County from the Pima County Vaccination webpage, www.pima.gov/covid19vaccine, and not from anecdotal information on social media. Or they can call 520-222-0119."

On Wednesday, the TCC site ended the day with 1,430 vaccines administered and on Thursday expects to reach at least 1,500, said Andy Squire, a spokesman with the city of Tucson.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at 806-7754 or pmachelor@tucson.com

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