FLORENCE — Pinal County health officials don't have a specific plan yet on how to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Officials said the county has been receiving a large number of calls regarding distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, likely due to Maricopa County releasing its distribution plan Monday.

The Pinal County Health Department said Tuesday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine, but once it does, supplies will be limited at first. The department said it is fully prepared to receive and distribute the vaccine, but national allocation to counties will be based on population.

"I'm really proud of our public health team and community partners who have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare for distribution of the vaccine, and we are ready to deliver the first vaccine as soon as it arrives in Pinal County," Pinal County Public Health Director Tascha Spears said in a statement. "We do not have a specific date of delivery nor a specific allocation amount at this time. However, based on current information, we anticipate receipt of the vaccine towards the end of December."

Spears said Pinal County should expect its first delivery a week or two behind delivery to Maricopa and Pima counties.

Once the county receives the vaccine, distribution will be prioritized according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state recommendations, which will see health care workers receiving the vaccine first. The Pinal team anticipates moving quickly to vaccinate the health care group and is then prepared, along with community partners, to vaccinate others identified by the CDC for early vaccination.

"Since the type of vaccine, timing of shipments and allocations to Pinal County are still unknown, this is a fluid situation that can change daily," the health department said in a release Tuesday.

Arizona is expected to receive 383,750 COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of December. ADHS placed the order for the first shipment this weekend, and it is due to arrive the week of Dec. 13.

In the first week, the vaccine will be distributed to Maricopa and Pima Counties. Maricopa will receive approximately 47,000 doses and Pima will receive approximately 11,000 doses, totaling approximately 58,000 doses.

In the following week, in addition to Maricopa and Pima Counties, vaccine doses will be distributed to all 15 counties, at least four tribes, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Pharmacy Partnership program for vaccination at skilled nursing facilities. Every skilled nursing facility in Arizona has opted to participate in the CDC Program, which will provide vaccinations to all residents and staff in the facilities statewide.

Steve Elliott, spokesman for the state Department of Health Services, said it's not a question of deciding that urban residents are entitled to a higher priority. He said it's a matter of practicality.

Put simply, the first vaccine set to arrive will be from Pfizer.

More to the point, that has to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius, or about 94 degrees below zero on the Fahrenheit scale. And that, in turn, requires access to special equipment.

And then there's the requirement that shipments come in minimum doses of 975.

"The big lots and handling requirements of the Pfizer vaccine make it better suited to places where many people can be vaccinated in one place in a finite period,'' he said.

Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan prioritizes health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, educators and vulnerable populations. ADHS will promptly order vaccine doses made available from the federal government who will directly ship the vaccine to those providing the vaccinations. The federal government will distribute the vaccine to states based on population, and Arizona’s population accounts for approximately 2 percent of the United States’ population.

In September, ADHS rolled out the Pandemic Vaccine Provider Onboarding Tool to facilitate identification and enrollment of health care providers interested in serving as COVID-19 vaccinators. As of this week, more than 1,214 providers have started the onboarding process and 593 have completed the process and are approved to receive the vaccine. Throughout Arizona, health care professionals including doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, pharmacists and more are partnering to administer the vaccine.

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