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Pima County working on plan to vaccinate older residents, but shots likely still weeks away
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Pima County working on plan to vaccinate older residents, but shots likely still weeks away

Older adults age 75 and up who live at home will have to wait weeks before they get a chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona, including Tucson.

These seniors were moved up in the Phase 1 tier for vaccine prioritization behind health-care workers, and staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

The seniors are now in a group that also includes health-care workers who did not make the higher prioritization list, adults living in congregate settings, law enforcement, educators, child care workers, and essential service and critical industry workers.

Dr. Theresa Cullen, county public health director, said the timeline for the rollout of vaccinations to the priority groups is dependent upon vaccine availability, which is still limited in the county.

The county Health Department will regularly update the arrivals of shipments of vaccine, and as more arrives here, there will be more distribution sites, including clinics and doctors’ offices.

Cullen said health-care teams that will administer vaccines to seniors ages 75 and older are anticipated to include teams from CVS and Walgreens, among other vaccination teams.

She said she is hoping health-care teams can go to people’s houses to vaccinate high-risk populations, and the Health Department is working with Pima Council on Aging to figure out how that can happen. Cullen said the Health Department has historically gone to people’s homes with the influenza vaccines and she is hoping the same can be done with the administering of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Cullen said PCOA, an agency that advocates for older adults and their families, is helping the Health Department with data from the U.S. Census about seniors living in the county.

W. Mark Clark, president and chief executive officer of PCOA, said the 2019 Census data shows there are 1,047,209 people living in Pima County. He said 212,596 are age 65 and older, which is 20.3% of the population. There are 93,000 adults, or 8.8% of the population, age 75 and older. However, not all are living at home.

“We have been talking with health department staff for a couple of weeks about homebound older adults who have meals delivered to them, and those living in adult complexes and other housing,” Clark said. He said PCOA is advocating for homebound older adults to also receive priority when it comes to the coronavirus vaccinations.

“We are working with the county so they can identify those folks and pass on the information to those doing the vaccinations, so they know where the people are and how the process will work,” said Clark. He said he hopes a strategy will be developed so health-care teams can administer the vaccine to those who cannot or have a difficult time leaving their home.

“I know people are anxious and concerned, but this is a complex process. I hope that people will be patient as we get some clarity about these issues as we move ahead. There is a lot of work to do and I have great faith in the leadership and in the staff of the county Health Department,” said Clark.

Gov. Doug Ducey and the state Department of Health Services approved the change regarding the prioritization of seniors age 75 and older who live at home a week ago after a recommendation by an advisory panel of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This updated prioritization will get older Arizonans vaccinated sooner, further protecting those most at-risk and relieving the strain on our hardworking health care professionals,” said Ducey in a news release.

The recommendation is intended to protect those most at risk from hospitalization and death, and to reduce strain on the state hospitals. According to the CDC, those 75 years of age and older are eight times more likely to be hospitalized and 220 times more likely to die compared to younger adults, states the release.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or 573-4104. On Twitter: @cduartestar


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