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Vaccine shortage means Pima County must drastically reduce first dose appointments
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Vaccine shortage means Pima County must drastically reduce first dose appointments

The line wended though the parking lots and along the southeastern doors and windows outside the Tucson Convention Center as hundreds waited in line for hours to get the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 4, 2021. The age cut off for vaccination was lowered to 70 years of age.

Banner Health will consolidate its vaccination center at 3838 N. Campbell Ave. with its operation at the Banner-run center at Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way, as of March 4.

Appointments for the Campbell location are no longer being taken in anticipation of this change, and the county and Banner Health will increase vaccination capacity at the Kino location once there is more vaccine available.

Pima County will sharply reduce new appointments for people needing the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine starting next week because there are not enough shots available.

The county is scheduled to receive 16,300 doses of Moderna vaccine from the state, which means there will be 13,550 fewer doses available compared to just two weeks ago, when the county received 29,850 doses. 

“Bottom line is we need more vaccine, but I’m sympathetic to the state’s dilemma," said Dr. Theresa Cullen, the county’s health director. "There just isn’t enough to meet all the needs." 

“We believe we can protect second-dose appointments with the current allotment, but if supplies remain this tight, it will be difficult for the public to schedule new first-dose appointments in the coming weeks,” Cullen said.

The health department is working with health partners and local providers to keep from having to cancel existing appointments, said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county's chief medical officer.

These are some of the changes residents in Pima County should expect, announced Friday:

  • The city is reducing its operational hours at the Tucson Convention Center site, 260 S. Church Ave., by one hour a day, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.
  • Tucson Medical Center, 5301 E. Grant Rd.,  is limiting first-dose appointments to people 75 and older.
  • Banner Health will consolidate its vaccination center at 3838 N. Campbell Ave. with its operation at the Banner-run center at Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way, as of March 4. 
  • Appointments for the Campbell location are no longer being taken in anticipation of this change, and the county and Banner Health will increase vaccination capacity at the Kino location once there is more vaccine available.
  • Vaccine distributions in rural parts of the county will be curtailed and restricted primarily to delivering second shots.

With the limited supply coming in, Pima County will prioritize the following groups, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a memo Friday:

• Assisted living facilities that did not enroll in the federal pharmacy program for vaccination of long term care/assisted living facilities. These vaccines are generally being administered by health department staff and a contractor. As of Friday, the county had vaccinated residents in 21 of the 83 facilities.

• Vulnerable populations as defined by age, ethnicity or income. This includes communities with the highest rate of COVID-19 infection and mortality, those who live in federal housing, those who are disabled, and those who live in census tracts with high social vulnerability. These populations will generally be reached through mobile vaccination clinics operated by the county, TMC or other organizations.

• Second dose vaccines where the first dose was administered by the county.

• First doses administered by the county for 1B priority group populations, including those ages 70 and older.

• First doses for all of the currently eligible population and, eventually, those ages 65 and older.

Meanwhile, the state-operated point of distribution, or POD, site at the University of Arizona will open with a “soft launch” on Feb. 18, with the goal of being fully functioning by Feb. 22.

Shortage nationwide

Limited vaccine supply and high demand has led to a shortage nationwide.

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it will likely increase weekly allotments to states, territories and tribes from 8.6 million to 11 million over the next three weeks, but it's unclear how much Arizona will receive.  

In January, Arizona requested 300,000 additional doses from the federal government to be followed by weekly allocations of 300,000, but the state's health director, Dr. Cara Christ, said that request was denied.

State officials have since re-submitted that request and are waiting on an answer.

"To be frank, what's most concerning is that we cannot predict the future," Cullen said Friday in discussing the shortfall. "At some point, the impact will be greater because it will have a ripple effect." 

Christ on Friday said that in addition to the 16,300 Moderna doses going to Pima County, an additional 5,850 doses of Pfizer will go directly to TMC and Banner Health for second shots, and 2,000 doses of Moderna vaccine will go the new UA state site. 

County's vaccination rate praised

Christ praised the county's vaccination rate, which includes 180,607 doses administered out of 189,725 received, for a distribution rate of  95%. 

What that means is the county now has significantly less vaccine than vaccination capacity, which includes being able to administer up 8,000 vaccines per day. Based on these rates, and the need to give second shots, Pima County had requested 39,400 doses for next week.

Cullen said the reduced vaccine supply will bring the county’s accelerated vaccination plan of fully immunizing 300,000 people by the end of March to nearly a halt in coming weeks if the federal supply doesn't grow and, thereby, the state’s supply doesn’t increase. 

“We were so successful in giving first-dose vaccinations when we opened the 1B priority in the middle of January that we now have more than 100,000 people who need their second shot over the next three to four weeks,” she said.

Even so, Cullen said she remains optimistic that federal supplies will ramp up soon. 

"Plus, the approval of a new single-dose vaccine is imminent," she said. "So I expect these difficulties will be short-term and we’ll be able to rev-up our Accelerated Plan soon and get people protected from this terrible disease."

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar


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