Dr. Francisco Garcia

Dr. Francisco Garcia speaks Tuesday during a virtual press conference. 

Pima County is spreading a recent state reduction in vaccine allocations throughout the county, but getting the shots into arms is ahead of schedule, with 15 percent of the county population vaccinated.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Francisco Garcia said Tuesday that Pima County remains ahead of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's goal of vaccinating 100,000 people per month for the first three months of 2021.

"In fact, we started to make plans for vaccinating another 100,000 people per month for the subsequent three months," Garcia said. "If we do that, if we are able to hit those kinds of benchmarks, we will get to a very robust level of community immunity. At this point, we are actually ahead of schedule."

In addition to the county's immunization infrastructure and federal program partners, Garcia pointed to more than 60 other potential vaccinators.

"I call them vaccinators in waiting," he said. "These are entities that have already been prequalified by the state as being able to receive vaccine, that have the right storage, the right kind of procedures to be able to receive vaccines from the state and to put them into people's arms."

But the vaccinators can't get to work until more doses become available.

There were some gains in grocery store vaccinators like Fry's and Safeway.

"Since the retail pharmacy program began dispensing, there have been 666 vaccines delivered out of Fry's and 274 delivered out of Safeway," Garcia said. "So, not 1,000 yet. But it's starting to be significant because, remember, this has only been around for two weeks."

The county is also looking at increased demand as it opened registration to people 70 years and older on Monday. Until now, people 65 to 74 years old were in Phase 1B1d, which prioritized those 75 and older and protective service and education workers.

Garcia anticipates the county will open registration to people 65 to 69 years old in about two weeks.

"That group, 65-74, are actually a fairly large group – it's about 130,000, 120,000 individuals," he said.

Opening registration to the more than 120,000 people could have crashed the county's data systems and strained vaccination PODs (point of dispensing), Garcia said.

"Right now, approximately 38 percent of the folks we have vaccinated so far are in that 70-plus age group," Garcia said. "Those age groups are only about 14 percent of the total population. Yet right now, they represent nearly (40) percent of people we have vaccinated. So, I think we're making good progress."

Case counts

While Garcia acknowledged case and hospitalization counts are improving, he cautioned focusing on the declining numbers since there have been peaks and lulls in the past.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 1,724 new cases in Pima County on Jan. 4; a month later on Feb. 4 that was 333.  ADHS also reported 62 percent of statewide adult ICU beds used by COVID-19 patients on Jan. 4; that fell to 51 percent Feb. 4.

As for the dearth of shots, relief might be on the way.

On Tuesday, the White House announced a 28 percent increase in weekly vaccine shipments to states, tribes and territories from 8.6 million to 11 million doses. The White House also plans to ramp up shipments to federally approved community health centers, with 1 million – 500,000 first and 500,000 second – doses going to 250 locations.

Vaccination registration

As Pima County's registration opens up to people 70 and older, it is reminding people the assistance line is not for registering over the phone.

People 70 and older can now register online – www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration – for the coronavirus vaccine.

The county also has an assistance line – 520-222-0119 – to help people navigate the website or get more information.

On Monday, a county spokesman said the registration assistance line would not register people.

"Instead, their information will be taken down and given to the Health Department, which will then contact them and assist them with registration for appointments," the spokesman said.

The county discourages people from unnecessarily seeking registration assistance in an attempt to circumvent the online queue.

"They get in the same line as everyone else so there is no advantage to dishonesty," the spokesman said. "We rely on everyone to be on their honor and only ask for registration help if they truly don't have internet, a computer or email."

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732