Arizona doctors' offices will be able to directly order COVID-19 vaccine, state says

COVID-19 vaccinations in Arizona likely will soon become a whole lot more convenient.

Starting Monday, nearly 1,200 doctors’ offices and other neighborhood health care providers that have preregistered with the state will be able to order the Moderna vaccine directly from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via Arizona's state immunization information system, the Arizona Department of Health Services announced Friday.

The change means many Arizona providers will no longer need to wait for vaccine allocations from their county health departments. It's expected to make the vaccine more widely available to people who would prefer to get the COVID-19 immunization closer to home and in a more familiar setting.

The announcement marks a significant shift in the vaccine rollout, furthering the move away from just large mass sites to more local community locations.

"We've been advocating for something like this for a while," said Dr. Ross Goldberg, immediate past-president of the Arizona Medical Association. "It's now the concept of getting the vaccine to people rather than people going to the vaccine. We want to have it available and make it less of a hindrance. Even though these mass sites were fantastic, not everyone can get to them."

The decision to allow the direct ordering by Arizona providers was made at the state level after a federal policy change, state health officials confirmed.

"The CDC just recently allowed states to make the decision on whether they wanted to do that or not," ADHS director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday. "And so we've been working with our county health departments who also agreed that we should go ahead and open up ordering. So it was a combination of steps, but we’re excited that providers are going to be able to do that now.”

State health officials said more than 100,000 Moderna doses will be available for providers to order next week. Each provider will be limited to 200 doses for a two-week period but can place larger orders for special events, ADHS said in a Friday news release. Adults ages 18 and older are eligible for the Moderna vaccine.

"As we get more doses into the state, we are expanding the places where Arizonans can get the vaccine," Christ said in a statement.

"From the beginning, we wanted to ensure Arizonans could receive the vaccine in locations they normally receive their health care — including their primary care providers’ offices, clinics, and pharmacies. This will further reduce barriers and help more Arizonans access the vaccine."

Public health leaders have pointed to doctors’ offices and local health care providers, where people are used to getting health care and vaccines, as one way to boost vaccine uptake. For people who are nervous about getting the vaccine, or who just want more time to wait and see, getting the shot at a local office where they have gone before may help ease barriers.

Doctors and nurses can also talk one-on-one with their patients about the vaccine — and then be able to provide it on-site.

"I think there's a convenience, where you go to your local physician and have a conversation about it. If you feel comfortable about it, they can then give you the shot while you are there," Goldberg said. "It's much easier access. ... You have the personal relationship. You are getting it from someone you trust, who knows your medical history."

Large-scale state-operated COVID-19 vaccination sites have seen significant drops in demand over the past few weeks.

Tens of thousands of appointments used to be snatched up within minutes or hours of their release; recently, there’s been an excess of unbooked appointments as the vaccine is more available throughout the state and as supply meets demand. The state this week announced it would allow walk-ins without appointments to get vaccinated at the seven mass sites as a result.

Of the about 74,000 appointments released last Friday for this week at state sites, nearly 60,000 were still unbooked as of Monday morning.

"That’s concerning because we want people to all get vaccinated and are looking for ways now to reduce barriers," Christ told The Arizona Republic earlier this week.

More than 2.9 million people in Arizona had received at least one vaccine dose as of Friday, with more than 2.2 million people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, state data showed. That’s about 40% of the total population vaccinated with at least one dose, meaning there’s still a long way to go in getting Arizonans vaccinated.

Experts say likely 70% or more of the population will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to reach herd immunity and prevent future outbreaks. Christ said Friday she's hoping the state will reach herd immunity by late summer or early fall.

Goldberg said he's optimistic that by making the vaccine more widely available, the number of vaccinated Arizonans will continue to rise.

"We're now in that group of people who are not so sure, they are on the fence still. So who are they going to trust? They are going to trust their local physician," Goldberg said.

"There is still going to be that group that doesn't want it, and that's a whole other conversation. But those who are on the fence, or who couldn't access it before for whatever reason, if it's right there and their physician has it, that will also help. It's another barrier that's being removed."

Many Arizonans have specific medical conditions and want to know how the vaccine is going to impact them, which is how health providers can help, Christ said.

"Hearing those types of facts from your health care provider who is actively encouraging you to get vaccinated, and by the way they have the vaccine, we just go in the next room and get it, could be a major driver for getting some of those that just want more information about the vaccine in order to get it," she said. "I think it will be a big help."

Not all health care providers will be eligible to order COVID-19 vaccine right away, the state said. To order COVID-19 vaccines, providers have to register with ADHS as pandemic vaccine providers, per federal government rules. Providers can learn more or register at azhealth.gov/VaccineProvider.

Information about COVID-19 vaccine sites across Arizona, including health care provider sites, can be found at azhealth.gov/findvaccine.

Reach the reporter at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on Twitter @stephanieinnes.

Reach the reporter at Alison.Steinbach@arizonarepublic.com or at 602-444-4282. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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