Teen eligibility drives Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccine demand

Expansion could mean return to normal for Valley schools

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Arizona teens’ demand for the COVID-19 vaccine could mean big things for a return to normalcy this fall.

Arizona opened its vaccine eligibility to young people ages 12 to 15 on Thursday following approval on one vaccine from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for use on younger people.

Pfizer is currently the only brand approved for anyone under the age of 18 in the U.S. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, all seven state-run sites saw a boost in vaccine distribution right away.

“There was a bump in activity at state sites starting on Thursday, when vaccination opened to those 12 and up,” said AZDHS Communications Director Steve Elliott. “On Thursday, the hours of greatest demand were 4 to 5 p.m., which corresponds with school getting out.”

More than 6,000 doses were administered on Thursday, he said. The state also held a vaccination event for 12 to 15 year-olds on launch day at C.O. Greenfield School in south Phoenix.

Mr. Elliott noted all state-run sites in Phoenix, Yuma, Tucson and Flagstaff now accept walk-ins without the need for an appointment, which most Arizonans are now taking advantage of, though appointments and pre-registration are recommended to cut down on wait times.

Arizona is home to nearly 400,000 children ages 12 to 15 that now have access to the sought-after vaccine. As of Monday morning, 125,654 Arizonans under the age of 20 have been vaccinated.

Approximately 3,146,755 people have received at least one dose in Arizona, with 2,635,445 fully vaccinated against the virus, according to AZDHS data.

That equates to 43% of the state having received at least one dose, and about 36% having received two doses.

In addition to the seven state sites, Pfizer vaccines are being offered at more than 300 locations — including pharmacies, county sites and community health clinics — across Arizona.

Expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to younger age groups occurred on the same day the CDC amended its mask requirements for all vaccinated Americans.

In its Thursday announcement, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can resume normal activities indoors and outdoors without masks or distancing in most cases — a major incentive to get vaccinated. However, vaccinated people will still be subject to any federal, local, or tribal rules and regulations as well as business and workplace requirements.

“This is a very big step toward returning to our pre-pandemic way of life,” said AZDHS Director Dr. Cara Christ in a prepared statement. “Let’s all keep working toward community immunity. Roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The announcement of younger children having access to the vaccine could also be a boon for Arizona schools, where mitigation efforts such as face coverings and social distancing are still recommended for in-person students, though some school districts have stripped back their mask requirements.

However, many schools still offer virtual or hybrid learning options for those not ready to come back to the classroom full-time.

The Arizona Department of Education said it relies on public health officials for guidance regarding the pandemic, which means vaccines will be encouraged for any student who can get one but likely not required.

“The CDC has said that vaccines are not necessary for a safe return to in-person learning,” said Richie Taylor, the department’s communications director. “We encourage all eligible individuals to get the vaccine as soon as it is available to them.”

Clinical trials are currently underway for children under the age of 12, but not much is known about when they might gain access. The CDC says the risk of spreading COVID-19 is much lower for elementary-aged children, and children are infected at much lower rates than adults, though they can still spread the virus.

While vaccines may not be necessary for students to go back to school in the fall, it’s likely that online learning will be here to stay in some capacity.

“Many district schools operated AOI’s (approved online instruction models) prior to the pandemic and we do expect some schools to continue to offer different instructional models like virtual schooling depending on the needs of their community,” said Mr. Taylor. “However, we expect the vast majority of students will be in the classroom.”

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