Arizona is looking to open a 24/7 COVID-19 vaccination site at the Yuma Civic Center possibly mid-March.

Tony Badilla, director of Yuma County Emergency Management, told the Board of Supervisors on Monday that he was “excited” to tell them that the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs is looking for another state-run vaccination site and the agency has identified the Civic Center as the location.

The Yuma Regional Medical Center has been successfully using the center for vaccination clinics.

DEMA, which consists of the Arizona National Guard (Air, Army and Joint Task Force), the Division of Emergency Management and the Division of Administrative Services, is now negotiating with the City of Yuma and YRMC. The state agency met with the city’s fire and police departments and Badilla last Friday

DEMA plans to operate the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week and vaccinate 320 people a day, or about 9,600 a month. The state agency hopes to tap into the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, which was approved on Saturday, while continuing to use the Moderna vaccine.

If the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is used, it would be “one and done, and they don’t have to come back for a second,” Badilla said.

The vaccination site is expected to be ready mid-March if negotiations work out.

The state vaccination pod would not affect the current state vaccine allocations that go to the county health district. “It should not take away from what we’re receiving from them,” he noted.

Supervisor Jonathan Lines said he was told that with the reduced restrictions on the storage of the Pfizer vaccine “that we would also receive an additional allocation for that, to where we could hit 100,000 in one month.” He asked whether this information was correct.

“You are correct,” said Diana Gomez, director of Public Health Services District. She explained that the district is prepared to store the Pfizer vaccine, but the requirements for ultra-cold storage makes it harder to handle.

“There’s a lot less flexibility,” she said, adding that “the lessening of the storage requirements allow more deployment (of the Pfizer vaccine) on the field.”

She noted that the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will provide the county with another tool in the fight against the virus. She explained that the vaccine is authorized for use in individuals 18 and older. It’s proven 72% effective, with a 66% overall effectiveness in preventing moderate to severe COVID. The newest vaccine, 28 days after administration, is 85% effective in preventing severe disease requiring in-hospitalization and death.

She pointed out that the effectiveness rates are after one dose, while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses to reach a 95% effectiveness.

“What you really need to look at is the 85% in reducing the hospitalization rate as well as the severe reaction to the COVID virus,” Gomez said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is ideal for individuals who may not be available for a second dose, Gomez said.

She also pointed out that the Johnson & Johnson clinical trials were conducted later, after multiple variances of the virus had been identified, while the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were tested much earlier in the pandemic.

Gomez also explained that the latest vaccine works similarly to a flu vaccine and that it’s not possible to get the virus with the shot. “If people have some hesitancy, it’s a method that has been used for a vaccine and it’s tried and true,” Gomez said.

The side effects are similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, including soreness at the injection site, some fatigue and possible headache.

Supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will initially be limited, but the storage requirements are a lot more flexible. It can be stored in a regular refrigerator for up to three months.

NEXT PRIORITY PHASE

In Yuma County, about 43,000 vaccines have been administered, including about 19,000 to individuals who are 65 and older.

As far as healthcare providers, mostly all who wanted the vaccine have been vaccinated. Other priority members, including law enforcement, childcare workers and educators, are now receiving their second doses.

“That segment of the population is pretty covered,” Gomez said.

Gomez noted that the health district worked with all the public and private schools in the county and all educators got their first doses. The health district is now administering second doses and partnering with Albertsons to host a mass vaccination clinic for the Gadsden Elementary School District during which all staff will be vaccinated at one time.

‘ONE LAST CALL’

The health district is working on “one more push to make sure we catch everybody,” she said, pointing out that a few teachers took a “wait and see” approach. “One last call and then we’re moving forward.”

Health officials within the next two weeks are hoping to move on to the rest of the essential workers, “some of the other people who have waited incredibly patiently,” she noted.

The retail pharmacy vaccine program has continued to expand, with CVS, Walgreens and Alberstsons offering vaccines, as well as Sunset and YRMC, which continues to hold vaccination clinics. Albertsons this past week held a clinic the very next day after receiving a supply of Pfizer vaccine and administered about 500 doses. In addition, the health district hosted a clinic in Somerton and San Luis this past weekend.

Gomez noted that having multiple points of dispensing is good because it provides additional options. “We’re working really hard to make sure that it’s equitable,” she said, “that regardless of where you live, you have the ability to access the vaccine, and things like transportation or a lack of a pharmacy nearby are not a barrier.”

To find a vaccine, go to https://podvaccine.azdhs.gov/.

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