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Pima County expands vaccine eligibility
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Pima County expands vaccine eligibility

Nathon Smith checks people in as they line up at the Kino Sports Complex to receive either a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.  

Pima County will expand its COVID-19 vaccine eligibility Thursday, but will not follow the state's new guidelines of shots for anyone 16 and older. 

Starting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 25, vaccine appointments will be made available at Pima County-run sites — Tucson Medical Center, Kino Sports Complex and the Tucson Convention Center — to those in three groups based on this criteria:

  • Age, which includes anyone over age 55, regardless of other health conditions or type of employment;
  • Risk, which includes anyone over age 16 who has a disability or is  experiencing homelessness or lives in a congregate setting/receives in-home or long-term care or has a high-risk medical condition as defined by the Centers for Disease Control including cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, heart conditions that include heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies, immunocompromised individuals, organ transplant recipients, people with a body mass index over 30 kg, sickle cell disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, or smokes;
  • Work, which includes anyone over age 16 who works in the following fields, regardless of other health conditions: health-care worker and health-care support staff, emergency medical services, long-term care facility staff, in-home long-term care, protective services, education and childcare, food and agriculture, restaurants and bars, U.S. Postal Service, manufacturing, grocery and convenience stores, including carnicerias, state and local government, public transportation, auto repair, business/financial services, clergy/faith leaders/traditional healers, court personnel, critical trade workers including plumbers, electricians, HVAC, food packaging, funeral services, gas station workers, power and utility, shelters, warehouse distribution, veterinarians and veterinary staff. 

“We realize that this is not fully aligned with what Governor Ducey announced earlier this week; however, our decisions are based on the current vaccination rates for 55 and up, which is at 42%, as well as our commitment to ensure ongoing access to vulnerable populations, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the county's health director. “We anticipate appointments will be filled quickly and as we move these groups, we look forward to being able to align with the state's recommendations within the next 6 weeks.”

Currently, most appointments set for the county-supported vaccination sites will be for mid-to-late April.

“We continue to push forward vaccinations at a rapid pace,” said Cullen. “We know this expansion includes several thousand people who have eagerly awaited their turn, and we are grateful for their enthusiasm to not only get their vaccine, but also their continued mask-wearing and physical distancing as well.”

The state opening up shots for people 16 and older created chaos and confusion within the counties, said Mark Evans, director of communications for Pima County. Pima County hadn’t moved past stage 1B when the state changed its criteria to an age-based system two weeks ago. The county followed the state at that time, even though there were still not enough vaccines available to meet the demand. 

There are between 400,000 to 500,000 people — not including those anticipated to decline the vaccine or residents under age 16 — left to be  immunized in Pima County, and there are not enough vaccines available to open it up to everyone without leaving high-risk residents competing for hard-to-get spots, Evans said. 

The county health department's No. 1 focus, considering the limited vaccine availability, has been getting shots to people who are most vulnerable either due to work or health conditions, he said.

For example, he said, the group IC, which includes people living with chronic health issues or disabilities, was still pending here and in other larger counties when the Arizona Department of Health Services opened up vaccine appointments at state-run sites — including the University of Arizona in Tucson — for everyone 16 and older on Monday, March 22.

“In that group we have people who need to get it sooner than others, people who need to be protected,” Evans said of the 1C population, as well as of older adults who still need the vaccine.

As of March 23, more than 400,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Pima County, and 200,000 people have been fully vaccinated. The county has surpassed its goal of administering 300,000 doses by the end of March.

For all of the registration options in Pima County or to get more information about who is currently eligible for an appointment, visit pima.gov/covid19vaccine.  

To schedule an appointment at a state site, including Tucson's site at the UA,  visit Arizona Department of Health Service portal at podvaccine.azdhs.gov/ . 

For questions about registration or help with the registration process,  residents can also call the county's Health Department registration support line at 520-222-0119 between 8:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays or from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

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


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