FLORENCE — Just about everyone wants the new COVID-19 vaccine, or at least that’s how it looks in Pinal County. Public Health staff had received over 4,000 calls in the last couple of days, Director Tascha Spears said.
One of those trying to call has been 82-year-old Jeannie Phillips of Casa Grande. She said she hasn't been able to get through to the county because the line is always busy. She said she and her husband, Mark Phillips, who is also 82, don't own a computer so they can't go online to register. She says they have also called area pharmacies and providers but no one seems to want to help them.
"People have been so rude," she said.
American consumers are used to seeing popular items become widely available — but this one remains scarce. The county is following the federal “1A” and “1B” groups of people who are most vulnerable to infection and vaccinating them first. Those two groups total 75,662 people in Pinal County. In the last three weeks or so, Pinal County has received enough doses to vaccinate about one-fifth of them.
Also, “It seems like there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Spears said in an interview with PinalCentral. Especially surprising to her, she said, is the perception that Pinal County is sitting on supplies of vaccine. She said the opposite is true, with the county and its “community partner” health care providers giving shots as fast as they can.
People ask why there aren’t “mass vaccination” events at a stadium or other large gathering place. “Some of our community partners have had smaller mass vaccination events, but you have to have a lot of vaccine,” and 2,000 doses — the typical weekly shipment lately — shared around the county isn’t enough, Spears said.
Pinal officials are pleading for more. “We’re working very hard to make known our request to get more vaccine,” but the shortage is national as well as global, Spears said.
Not everyone who calls Pinal County is upset that they can’t get a shot.
“Just when our team was feeling a little down, we got a letter this morning from someone in a rural community who actually wrote to the New York Times that the Pinal County rollout was the best in the state.”
When more vaccine is available, Pinal County has a growing list of community partners ready to help administer it. Only a couple of weeks ago there were just 14 Pinal County health care providers that were authorized to give the vaccine, but this week there are 26, Spears said. Still more are becoming qualified, or “onboarding” through the Arizona Department of Health Services. “So we’re really looking forward to hearing any kind of news about getting more vaccine.”
But the county and its partners have little notice of how many doses they’ll be receiving and on what day, so scheduling appointments is challenging.
Pinal County always orders the maximum number of doses allowed, but “we never know the exact day that we’re going to be allowed to make that weekly order, and we never know the following week the exact day the shipment is coming,” Spears said. “So that contributes to some of the difficulties in this early period of vaccinating.”
Residents may visit the Pinal County Public Health vaccine location page to see what providers have or expect to have vaccine. When a shipment arrives, it’s all spoken for within an hour or two. “So it’s very frustrating for people.”
“As soon as problems are identified, we’re immediately trying to find a solution,” Spears said. “We recognize the frustration. We are very dedicated to working through this. … Right now our problem is no vaccine.”
Staff Writer Andy Howell contributed to this story.