Three messages from healthcare professionals and Coconino County officials are loud and clear: the rollout of vaccines is providing great hope for getting COVID-19 under control; frustration exists with a lack of available doses; and, masking, social distancing and hand washing are all still very important actions to maintain.
“We now have an effective tool in our hands to combat against the spread of COVID-19,” said Northern Arizona Healthcare Chief Quality Officer Dr. John Mougin. “We are encouraging, but not requiring, the vaccination for employees. We consider it a gift and we thank goodness we are able to vaccinate employees to keep everybody healthy.”
Meanwhile, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors is hearing reports that vaccination efforts are hampered by limited doses. Coconino County Interim Health and Human Services Director Kim Musselman informed the board in late January that the county and medical partners are able to administer about 1,300 doses of vaccine a day but are giving fewer than 400 because of the limited supply.
“Our county response team and partners have done a great job at building capacity to vaccinate our community quickly. For all of us, the biggest frustration is the lack of vaccine supply which renders us unable to procure and administer the number of doses demanded by our community. We cannot schedule appointments and give people a shot until a dependable schedule of vaccine delivery is made available to the county,” she said.
Coconino County Health and Human Services (CCHHS) leaders explained that the county learns weekly how many doses it will receive for the next week. The lack of predictability does not allow the county to anticipate how many appointments to make available. To date, any new shipments of vaccine that arrive have been small amounts, usually less than 1,500 total, to spread between all county operations and partners for that week.
Board Chairman Matt Ryan says it will take weeks, if not months, to accelerate vaccine distribution. “The bottom line is that we do not have enough vaccine doses to meet the demand or the capacity in Coconino County. We want the public to know that we understand your frustration and we encourage people to call their federal and state representatives to intervene and assist us.”
NAH Chief Administrative Officer Josh Tinkle says Northern Arizona Healthcare is anticipating that it should be able to administer a few thousand doses a week through Northern Arizona clinics. “We’ll get our vaccine allocation from the county, but it’s really in an effort to help the county to be able to deliver the amount of vaccine that we need to keep our population safe,” he said.
So far, NAH has not seen any new variants of the disease, but officials say the structure of the virus is the same and they are hopeful the same treatments will be effective against new strains.
In response to the rollout of vaccinations, NAH President and CEO Flo Spyrow says NAH is doing everything it can to speed up the distribution.
“Not everybody will be vaccinated by March. Not even close, said NAH Chief Medical Officer Derek Feuquay. “That’s why you have to continue to do all the same stuff you’ve been doing, like staying at home and wearing your mask and staying away from people. I know we’re all tired of it. There are people that are starting to go out and do more things. They really shouldn’t. We’re almost there, we just need to get across the finish line.”
“It takes a while to get enough of the community vaccinated to create herd immunity. Herd immunity is reached when you get about 70% of the people immune either by natural immunity from having the disease or from immunizations,” said Mougin. “Secondly, the vaccines do not provide sufficient data to tell whether the vaccine prevents an individual from having asymptomatic COVID disease that they could spread to others. Lastly, the vaccines are very effective, approaching 95% with both doses for both Moderna and Pfizer, but that’s not 100%, so even though you get the vaccine, you need to protect yourself until we really see the incidence of COVID-19 trailing off and reducing, which is a day I look forward to.”
On another note, Spyrow announced that NAH is establishing a development office, being led by NAH Chief Systems Officer Ron Haase, to raise funds for healthcare needs within the region’s growing communities. “For instance, some of the first projects might be the NAH Cancer Center in Sedona; the hospital and ambulatory park that we’re still planning within the Fort Tuthill area; and, other programs and services that are needed by our community to keep them healthy and to heal them in the coming years,” she said.
Information about the vaccine and availability can be found on the COVID-19 vaccine webpage at coconino.az.gov/covid19vaccine. At the same link, those eligible can check appointment availability and book a vaccine appointment. Those without internet access or who need help scheduling an appointment can contact the COVID Information line at 928-679-7300. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN