/ Modified dec 16, 2020 3:33 p.m.

Governor, health director discuss vaccine rollout amid ongoing COVID-19 surge

The governor spoke from a drive-thru vaccine distribution facility in Maricopa County.

ducey christ 1216 A Dec. 16 COVID-19 briefing at a Maricopa County vaccine distribution site.
Office of the Arizona Governor/YouTube

Arizona's governor and health director meted out a few more details on the state's vaccination plan on Wednesday, including the expansion of vaccine distribution sites, while the state sees unabated increase in COVID-19 cases.

Speaking from a vaccine distribution site in Maricopa County, Gov. Doug Ducey said hospitals like Banner Health would be adding vaccination administration to certain sites for health care workers, adding that Pima County and North Phoenix would open sites by Thursday and that every county in the state would have a site by the end of the week. He also said residents of nursing homes would start to receive vaccinations by the end of the month. Facilities administering the vaccine will be posted on the state health department website at "the appropriate time," Ducey said.

The governor announced a list of people who would be receiving the vaccine that day, including Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ.

The state's vaccination plan is in phase 1-A, the first phase, which prioritizes health care workers, Christ said. The first vaccination "pods" are being set up in Maricopa and Pima counties. Health care workers are being notified for prescreening through channels like licensing boards, employers, associations and health departments, she said. Long-term care facility vaccination and communication will be administered through a CDC-pharmacy partnership.

Christ said later phases in which additional groups will have access to the vaccine will be announced by the health department online and communicated to the media, employers and health care providers, among others, as part of a developing communication strategy.

Ducey emphasized the lightning speed of the development and delivery of the first vaccines, saying that, thanks to those who participated in the process, it's time to "finally begin to put this virus behind us."

Vaccine trials have yielded results showing a high level of effectiveness in preventing COVID-19, including the Pfizer vaccine rolling out around the country.

Vaccination, however, is still months away for many, provided they want it. In the meantime, Arizona has led the nation in COVID-19 rates in the last week, eclipsing previous records set during a summer surge, and currently has a test positivity rate of 18%, according to Health Director Cara Christ. Hospitalization metrics like capacity have also surpassed any previous records, and health care workers have reported high stress and understaffing.

Ducey did acknowledge that the "fight was not over," and once again emphasized safe practices and personal responsibility, especially during the holiday season. As the state's COVID-19 metrics have expanded at alarming rates for weeks, Ducey has made no significant changes to the state's response, despite repeated calls from health professionals and local officials to implement more stringent restrictions, like a statewide mask mandate.

By Wednesday morning, the state had reported 7,530 deaths from COVID-19.

Ducey also announced $15 million in additional funding for emergency health services to go to COVID-19 resources.

Earlier in the month the state said nearly 400,000 Arizonans, or about 5% of the state's population, could get their first COVID-19 vaccination by the end of the year. The state announced then that 384,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines would start arriving by Dec. 14.

Christ said the first vaccinations are slated to go to people labeled as the highest priority, or 1-A on the state's priority list.

"It includes health care personnel and support occupations, emergency medical service providers, and long-term care staff and residents," Christ said.

Over the coming weeks, more health care workers will get the vaccine, as well as people who live or work in long term care facilities. People in high risk groups should starting getting their shots sometime in the spring, and by early summer everyone else should be able to reserve a spot in line. Until then, Banner-UMC Physician Executive Dr. Joshua Lee said life will stay the same for most.

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