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Wed, Sept. 22

Coconino County outlines COVID vaccination plan

Stock photo

Stock photo

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — With recent COVID-19 cases being reported at nearly twice what was seen this summer, the rollout of a vaccine in Arizona Dec. 14 is welcome news, with Coconino County expecting its first shipment within the next two weeks.

The first shipment of the coronavirus vaccine that arrived in Maricopa County included 47,000 doses, with Pima County to receive 11,000.

Arizona will receive a larger shipment of vaccines next week and will begin spreading them across the state. Arizona expects to receive 383,750 COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of December, according to Gov. Doug Ducey.

In Coconino County, health officials have begun laying out plans on how and where the vaccine will be distributed when it arrives. Officials said the county should receive the vaccine Dec. 20-31.

“We have seen rates of vaccine preventable diseases go down to almost undetectable levels thanks to immunizations,” said Sarah Schildecker, division manager with Coconino County Health and Human Services.

Schildecker gave a vaccine update to the Coconino County Board of Supervisors Dec. 8.

“Every resident in the United States will be eligible for free COVID-19 immunization, however, it will occur in phases that are dictated by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and AZDHS (Arizona Department of Health and Human Services), and those phases are going to be designed to maximize the benefit to those who are at highest risk,” Schildecker said.

Following guidelines set by the state, Coconino County intially plans to distribute the vaccine in three phases. The first phase will include healthcare personnel and long term care facility residents and staff.

Once those groups are vaccinated, officials will move to the second phase which will include essential workers — those involved with education, food and agriculture, transportation, childcare, energy service, water and wastewater and law enforcement.

The third phase will include high risk individuals and those aged 65 and over.

Currently, two vaccines have been approved for distribution, one by Pfizer/BioNTech and one by Moderna.

On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the first emergency use authorization for a vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease by approving the Pfizer vaccine. It is approved for use by individuals 16 years of age and older.

The data support that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in millions of people 16 years of age and older, including healthy individuals, the FDA said in a statement.

The Pfizer vaccine contains messenger RNA, which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a small piece of the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s mRNA that instructs cells in the body to make the virus’s distinctive “spike” protein.

“When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2,” the FDA said.

The FDA reports a 95 percent efficacy with the Pfizer vaccine in preventing both infections and severe disease, but requires two doses per person. The doses will be administered between 21 and 28 days apart, depending on the individual vaccine.

The FDA is expected to review the Moderna vaccine for emergency approval Dec. 17.

Coconino County has partnered with T-Gen for cold storage requirement of the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccine comes in doses of 975 per container and requires storage at -94 Fahrenheit, which presents problems for distribution since most communities do not have the ultra-cold storage capacity or the means to distribute the vaccines before they expire.

“We have been fortunate to partner with T-Gen as they have an ultra-cold storage unit that will allow us to store this vaccine for a couple months,” Schildecker said. “Which is a lot better than what a lot of other counties and healthcare organizations are facing.”

If the Moderna vaccine is approved for emergency use, the storage requirements aren’t as challenging — the vaccine can be stored at -4 Fahrenheit, which is closer to standard freezer temperatures.

“The Moderna vaccine will be more manageable in 100 doses and we plan to ship that out to our partners across the county and take the lion’s share of the Pfizer vaccine due to our partnership with T-Gen,” Schildecker said.

Coconino County plans to distribute the vaccine through approved local providers. Provider groups must be on-boarded to the AZDHS portal.

“It ensures the provider knows and understands the requirements and the facility’s able to meet the storage and handling requirements which are very strict,” Schildecker said.

Flagstaff Medical Center and Banner Health Hospital Page will distribute the vaccine to its own staff.

“The hospitals will take on their own immunizations for their staff because of their size,” she said. “It will work great for us to partner with Flagstaff Medical Center as well as Page Banner Hospital.”

And the numbers

Health officials reported nearly 11,800 additional virus cases resulting in one death as of Dec. 14.

Coconino County reported 904 cases for the week of Nov. 29 - Dec. 5. This surpassed the previous record of 561 weekly cases Nov. 15-21, a 61 percent increase. The summer high was Sept. 13-19 with 310 cases.

Williams has reported 193 cases since March, with 30 cases reported the week ending Dec. 5, according to the Coconino County data dashboard. Williams currently has 19 active cases in the 86046 zip code, with 11 of those in the city limits.

In the county, there were 429 new cases over the weekend, bringing the total confirmed cases to 8,368 since the pandemic began in March. There have been 178 confirmed deaths.

The state hit a record high number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 Dec. 13, with 3,677. The AZDHS dashboard reported 91 percent of the states ICU beds were occupied and 91 percent of inpatient beds were in use. About 47 percent of the ICU beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients and 43 percent of regular beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients.

The pandemic has worsened since Thanksgiving, and officials expect that it will continue through Christmas as many people continue to gather in groups.

In all, more than 420,000 cases with 7,358 deaths have been reported in Arizona since the pandemic began.

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