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Arizona could face delays in COVID-19 vaccine distribution as national stockpile dwindles

Virus Outbreak Vaccine California
Posted at 5:15 PM, Jan 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-16 19:15:01-05

PHOENIX — It was only days earlier, federal officials with Operation Warp Speed stood side by side, telling states they’d soon be flooded with extra doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

They urged those same states to open the distribution to folks 65 and older. That’s just what Arizona did, state officials announcing the change Wednesday. However, we’re learning, county leaders tasked with the distribution were never alerted ahead of time.

“It caught us off guard,” said Dr. Tescha Spears with Pinal County Health.

Dr. Spears says the announcement from the state caused residents there to flood phone lines and online systems for appointments that weren’t there.

“Our vaccine supply is so limited, we think it’s a misrepresentation to the public to suggest that we have enough vaccine[s] at the current time,” said Dr. Spears.

Her county isn’t alone. Maricopa health leaders are responding to this as well.

“We’re not sure when we’ll have enough vaccine[s] to include the additional 400,000 people in the 65 and over category,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine Thursday.

In fact, every county we spoke with says they don’t have enough supply to move onto that group as they continue to work through 1A and others in the 1B priority population. Adding to the confusion, some state leaders across the nation are hearing that the massive supply promise from the federal government won’t happen. A concern we took directly to the top.

“Luckily it doesn’t impact our current plans but it is disappointing because we would have loved to be able to ramp up,” said Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ.

Dr. Christ says the state will continue to receive its normal allocation and make that available to counties as it makes its way into Arizona. The demand skyrocketed with the announcement of more locations opening in the coming weeks. However, she also admits, information about supply continues to be unclear.

“We can’t guarantee that we won’t get decreased vaccine[s] coming up in several weeks,” said Dr. Christ.

If it does, that will cause trouble for the governor's plan to vaccinate our way out of this pandemic.

Either way, the county leaders ABC15 spoke with say the state should focus on under-promising and over-delivering.

“The messaging must be clear from all levels of government for that because otherwise it just creates frustration, anger, depression among people who are looking for the vaccine and wondering why they can’t get it,” said Dr. Spears.