COVID cases are crashing, but the questions are growing Covid-19
Arizona’s COVID vaccination program is finally underway, but there is also criticism of the state’s slow start.
The state vaccination program has reached more than 1 million people to date, although new cases and hospital stays are falling.
Navajo County continues to be at “extremely high risk,” but in the past two weeks the number of new cases has decreased by 36% daily average and the number of hospitalizations has decreased by 17%. Apache County remains at “extremely high risk” despite a 49% decrease in new cases and an 18% decrease in hospital stays.
Even so, Rep. Tom O’Halleran sent a stern letter to Governor Doug Ducey this week asking for information on how the state can get more shots in more guns, faster.
“I was extremely disappointed that you were unable to meet with our congressional delegation when you were in Washington DC for the inauguration of the president, even though you took the time to meet with lawmakers from other states,” said O’Halleran.
O’Halleran noted that the state has now administered 78% of the doses received, but asked the governor to answer three questions:
1. What resources would be required to ensure that the state can allocate vaccines to counties and local health care providers for three weeks?
2. How is the state of Arizona tracking the spread of new, potentially more contagious, and deadly varieties of COVID-19?
3. How does the state of Arizona plan to ensure that people in rural and underserved areas have access to vaccines? Are additional federal funds such as funding for mobile vaccination centers being considered?
O’Halleran’s letter indicated that the state had not responded to a December 17 letter asking for details of the state’s vaccination schedule or to letters from the Congress delegation dated November 24 and January 17 .
“I hope my letter will convey to the governor that we need to address the needs of rural Arizona families, who often have to travel for hours to get basic health care, including COVID-19 vaccines,” said O’Halleran. “The need for constant communication on this matter cannot be stressed enough.”
The governor’s office did not return a request for comment prior to going to press.
However, the governor’s office issued a press release celebrating the delivery of the millionth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which clinical studies have shown to be 95% effective in preventing disease from the then dominant strain of the virus. Most Arizona counties still limit the shots to the highest priority groups, including frontline health workers, residents and nursing home workers, the over 75s, and other frontline workers like teachers. Some counties have opened reservations for people over 65 and other adults with risk conditions. Earlier this week, only Gila County had started taking vaccination clinic reservations from the general population.
The governor’s office called the millionth dose “an important milestone”.
Publication has been added, “but there is still a lot to be done. Arizonans are committed to receiving the vaccine and we are committed to distributing it safely and efficiently. We will continue to work with our private and public partners, as well as the federal government, to secure the cans we need to protect Arizona. “
Gila County is doing much better than many other counties across the state, according to tracking numbers. The district has almost completed the high-risk groups and is taking reservations for a vaccination clinic for the general population next weekend.
Perhaps 20% of the population has received a shot so far and another 12% have recovered from an infection so far. The county has suffered 6,400 infections and 200 deaths.
The mass vaccination program suffered a temporary setback this week when the severe winter storm that struck much of the country slowed federal can deliveries to states. Arizona began distributing cans on December 14, initially only to Maricopa and Pima counties. Distribution to rural areas has been delayed, and dosages have changed so much from week to week that counties have struggled to schedule appointments at vaccination clinics with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines an hour after opening the 5-10 -Shot vials can spoil.
However, Maricopa and Pima counties have been able to operate 24-hour mass vaccination clinics in places such as soccer stadiums. This has led some rural people to travel down into the valley to take their pictures.
A national database maintained by the Federal Disease Control Centers shows that on Feb.17, Arizona was bottomed up for the percentage of the population vaccinated.
The database found that 12.3% of Arizona residents received the first shot and 3.7% received the second shot – about 16% total. That’s about the same as California, but worse than New Mexico – where 21% received one or both doses. However, even backward states – like Utah – have vaccinated about 14% of the population with at least one dose.
Gila County has so far surpassed the national average, putting it on par with some of the most heavily vaccinated states in the country.
The nation now administers approximately 1.6 million shots a day, compared to 1 million shots a day in January.
The rapid spread of new, more contagious, potentially more dangerous strains of COVID has made vaccination efforts more urgent. Studies suggest that the new strains not only spread 30 to 70% faster, but also cause serious illnesses 20 to 40% more often – depending on the strain. Some of the new strains are already in circulation in Arizona. So far, current vaccines appear to be effective in stopping the new strains as well – although in some cases they can offer 60-70% protection instead of 95%. The manufacturers of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are working on booster vaccinations or optimizing the existing formula to make their vaccinations against the new strains more effective.
Epidemiologists estimate the nation will not achieve “herd immunity” until 70 to 90% of the population is either vaccinated or recovered from infection.
In Arizona, 16% are now vaccinated and another 11% have recovered from infection – which means roughly 27% are now largely protected from infection. That’s still less than half the herd immunity – if the virus goes largely extinct in the population.
Until then, experts say wearing masks, maintaining social distance, limiting travel, and avoiding crowded situations that lead to “super spreader” events are the best way to slow down the virus while vaccinations continue become. Doctors say they still have to work to convince everyone to get the vaccine, as surveys show that perhaps 25% of adults say they likely won’t get the shot once it becomes available.
Still, new cases have slumped in the past two weeks. Arizona had the highest infection rate in the country for several weeks in January. Now it has dropped to 7th place. The state’s daily average infection rate has dropped 37% in the past two weeks. Deaths are down 49% and hospital stays are down 35%. To date, the state has suffered 891,000 infections and 15,000 deaths. Despite the sharp decline, the state still reports around 1,200 new cases every day.
Minority communities are particularly hard hit. Indians make up about 4% of the state population – but 8% of the deceased.
Overall, people over 65 are responsible for 73% of Arizona deaths.