State-operated vaccine sites open up for Arizonans 16 and older
Arizona is opening up COVID-19 vaccines to anyone 16 and older at the sites it operates in Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties starting 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Pharmacies and federally qualified health centers will follow the state's new parameters at their locations across Arizona, health department spokesman Steve Elliott confirmed.
The Arizona Department of Health Services announced the unexpected change in eligibility on Monday morning in conjunction with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, with 58,000 appointments still available from Friday’s release of time slots.
Maricopa County confirmed it will do the same.
The news is positive for Arizonans who have been frustrated because of age-related restrictions that have prevented them from getting vaccinated. However, it's unclear what the news means in terms of vaccine uptake. About one in four of all Arizonans had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Monday morning.
Experts estimate at least 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to protect the population as a whole from future outbreaks.
Several rural counties — Gila, Greenlee and Pinal — have already expanded vaccines to anyone 18 and older. The state and most counties were still vaccinating the 55 and over age group. Counties can still prioritize age groups as they see fit for county vaccine sites.
Maricopa County will expand eligibility alongside the state "to streamline operations and communication," county spokesperson Ron Coleman wrote in an email. All county residents 18 and older will be able to get the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and all 16 and older will be able to get the Pfizer vaccine, he wrote.
To streamline operations and communication, Maricopa County will adopt the same prioritization as the state of Arizona and open vaccine appointments to all residents aged 18 and older for those receiving the Moderna and Janssen vaccine and 16 and older for the those receiving the Pfizer vaccine, per the vaccine FDA Emergency Use Authorizations.
Across Arizona, about 2.9 million doses had been administered as of Monday, with about 15% of all Arizonans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with either one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. About 20% of all Arizona adults 18 and over had been fully vaccinated as of Monday.
Vaccine uptake in priority age groups differs by county, state data show. Statewide, about 69% of those 65 and older have received at least one dose, compared with about 42% of those 55-64 and 21% of those 45-54.
Ducey addressed the vaccine policy change while speaking to reporters at the state Capitol on Monday morning about wildfire season.
“We actually have thousands of appointments available right now, which is the best market indicator that supply is starting to meet or outstrip demand,” he said. “We also know we have a lot of vaccine hesitancy in our state and our country along with some historical apprehension around getting the vaccine.”
Ducey said “the best thing we can do” is open sign-ups to everyone who wants a vaccine “to help build that confidence.”
“Because there is some slack in the system in terms of appointments available and now additional supply on hand, we can safely open it up and make sure the people that need the vaccine can also access the vaccine.”
State Health Director Dr. Cara Christ said in a statement that “we anticipate more and more vaccine reaching Arizona heading into April, making it possible now to expand prioritization.”
“We have been flexible and nimble throughout, while expanding the availability of state sites to vaccinate large numbers of people rapidly.”
The five vaccine sites operated by the state are State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona State University’s Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Tempe, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, the University of Arizona in central Tucson, and, as of this Friday, Yuma Civic Center in Yuma County.
The state is working on moving its outdoor mass vaccination sites to indoor locations in the coming weeks due to rising temperatures.
State Farm Stadium will operate overnight only, from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. starting April 4, and the state plans to open an indoor site in April to replace the stadium. Phoenix Municipal Stadium will also transition to an indoor location in April. The Chandler site is moving indoors to a Mesa warehouse starting April 5. The UA Tucson site can shift indoors if needed. The Yuma Civic Center site is already inside.
The Department of Health Services opens appointments for its sites at 11 a.m. each Friday. To book and schedule vaccines go to podvaccine.azdhs.gov
Those without computer access or needing extra help registering may call 844-542-8201 to be connected with someone who can assist. Pharmacies are making appointments on their own websites.
Arizona may open more state-run sites in the future. Christ said Friday that the state is looking at possible sites in Coconino County and additional sites in the metro Phoenix area, including in the northeast Valley.
Sites using the Pfizer vaccine, including those run by the state, may vaccinate those 16 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved only for people 18 and older.
To find out more information about vaccination sites across Arizona go to azhealth.gov/findvaccine.
Reporter Andrew Oxford contributed to this article.
Reach the reporter at Alison.Steinbach@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.