Vaccination clinic

Gloria Neira of Florence receives her Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination April 2 at a drive-thru clinic at Sun City Anthem Union Center. It was one of 1,685 COVID vaccines given in Pinal County that day. In all, more than 176,000 vaccine doses have been given in Pinal County, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

FLORENCE — Pinal County has adequate supplies of COVID-19 vaccine and the demand for it appears to be waning.

“Our community partners have advised us that the appointments for vaccines have slowed down. Our community partners are asking for less vaccine from the county allocation, and they are not filling up (appointments) as quickly as previously,” Tascha Spears, Pinal County Public Health director, told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday.

“We do have adequate vaccines allocated to us, and that does not include all of the pharmacies that are vaccinating now,” Spears told the board. “They get their own allocation. We’re not advised of how much they get or what they’re getting. That’s why the type of vaccine they’re administering is not listed on our public health website.”

The county receives at least 10,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine every week. The amount of Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less; one week the county received 2,500 doses, and another week it was 6,000. “We anticipate this week we’ll be very low,” Spears said.

Sun Life Family Health Center, the county’s federally qualified health care center, receives its own vaccine from a different supply than the county’s. “They have said they’re getting adequate doses as well.” Sun Life is assisting the county in vaccinating those who are medically unable to leave their homes. “That started this week,” Spears said.

The board was discussing how the county might respond to a March 25 executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey lifting restrictions on organized public events and nullifying local regulations in conflict with his order.

Board Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, asked how close the county was to “herd immunity,” or a number of immune people high enough that the disease can’t spread.

Spears said it’s been suggested that 70% will constitute herd immunity, but that’s a vaccination rate. Some residents will opt not to be vaccinated. “The complexity of it is maybe a little bit greater than saying we’re going to get to 70%.”

Miller said a third of people won’t even take an annual flu vaccine, and the county is likely to see a similar pattern with the COVID-19 vaccine.

As of Tuesday in Pinal County, 65.4% of residents age 65 and older had been vaccinated. The county is now vaccinating ages 18 and older, Spears said, and has offered vaccinations to county employees on several occasions.

A vaccinated person can still catch and transmit COVID, but the intent of the vaccine is that such a patient would be less likely to be hospitalized or die, Spears said. Some research indicates there could be less transmission of the disease from a vaccinated person, she added.

On Thursday Pinal County topped 50,000 confirmed cases since the pandemic began. The county health department reported 86 new cases and one additional death. That brings the county totals to 50,082 cases and 859 deaths.

Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh, R-Coolidge, asked if masks cause other problems such as staph infections, as indicated in a 2014 National Institutes of Health study. Spears replied there are some documented cases of staph infections, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they’re not significant.

Cavanaugh asked if the county would be liable for such cases if an employee attributed them to a mask he was told to wear.

Deputy County Attorney Chris Keller said it would be very difficult to show the connection between what the county enforced and any condition an employee developed, because the county doesn’t control the employee outside of the workplace.

The county has left the questions of masks up to individual departments and has not made them mandatory, although “we have always encouraged masking, based on guidance from public health,” Keller said.

Vice Chairman Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, said Pinal was the only county not to mandate masks. He said the county should continue to give departments the authority to set their own rules. But he now favors moving in the direction the governor appears to be leading.

Cavanaugh said he partly agrees. If the county allows department directors to make the call, the county is mandating masks for some employees and not others, he said. “My recommendation would be to leave it up to the individual employee whether or not to wear a mask.”

Supervisor Jeff McClure, R-Eagle Crest Ranch, said for those who have compromised immune systems, others should respect that and wear a mask around them, “because they are probably wearing one too. You don’t have to wear it everywhere, but certainly around those people.”

The governor’s March 25 executive order says public event organizers should continue to encourage safety, including social distancing. Businesses and others maintain the right to enforce policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and retain the right to refuse service to those who do not comply with their policies.

“Any city, town or county that has a rule, regulation or ordinance not in place as of March 11, 2020, that is in conflict with the provisions of this order shall not be enforced,” the order says. Political subdivisions may continue to enforce COVID mitigation policies in their own government buildings and on public transportation.

The order cites the availability of vaccines and decreases in the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the state over the last seven weeks.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.