As vaccinations against COVID-19 begin to filter toward the general public, Sun Cities residents continue to have questions about the virus and the vaccine.
Registration became available for those 75 or older at the state’s COVID-19 vaccination site at State Farm Stadium, 1 Cardinals Drive in Glendale. Maricopa County moved into the 1B classification for vaccines, which includes adults 75 and older, adults living in congregate settings with high-risk medical conditions, education and child care providers, law enforcement and other essential workers.
Maricopa County officials offer vaccinations at five regional points of distribution, State Farm Stadium and for adults 75 and older at various pharmacies, according to Jennifer Franklin, Maricopa County Joint Information Center public information officer.
“More sites are being added,” she stated. “Grand Canyon University announced today that it will offer vaccinations.”
Recreation Centers of Sun City West officials also approached county health leaders to offer their facilities for a vaccination POD, according to Bill Schwind, RCSCW general manager.
“Once the vaccine is more widely available, traditional locations, such as doctor’s offices, health clinics and pharmacies will likely provide vaccinations,” Ms. Franklin stated. “Drive-thru or walk-up vaccination events at community spaces may also be offered.”
In addition, other entities are dispensing vaccine. These include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, skilled nursing and long-term care facilities who are participating in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care program, tribal health programs and federally qualified health care centers.
But some Sun Cities residents question the method in which the virus is tracked and how vaccinations will be distributed.
Sun City West resident Terry Burks claimed his research of the Arizona Department of Health Services website showed no distribution plan past emergency personnel being vaccinated first.
However, the distribution plan was established and administered by Maricopa County officials.
Directed by the CDC, vaccine will be distributed in five phases, according to Ms. Franklin. Maricopa County is in Phase 1A and began Phase 1B last week.
“(The vaccination schedule) places the general public in Phase 2 and is expected to start in the spring or summer,” Ms. Franklin stated.
In Phase 2, any remaining Phase 1 population, additional high-risk population and the general public can get the vaccine. Phase 3 will be any remaining Phase 1 or 2 and the general population.
Mr. Burks also wondered what other facilities were available to give vaccinations, how residents will be notified they can receive them and whether there would be some kind of proof of vaccination.
“The state appears to be good at reporting positive test results and deaths but not how many people to date have been vaccinated and how many get done on a daily basis,” Mr. Burks stated in an email.
Those without computer access or needing extra help registering for a COVID-19 vaccination at State Farm Stadium can call 1-844-542-8201, according to Arizona Department of Health Services officials in a Jan. 11 press release.
In addition, individuals creating an account on podvaccine.azdhs.gov/ can schedule an appointment on behalf of relatives or dependents through that account, which is recommended for those with older family members or family without access to a computer.
There are other locations to receive the vaccine, according to Holly Poynter, ADHS public information officer.
“While the onboarding and approval process for providers is ongoing, more than 70 initial vaccination sites were launched during Phase 1A,” she stated in an email. “Additional statewide sites will be phased in as supplies become available in January-March. Currently, Arizona has 600-plus providers that have been approved and are eligible to receive vaccine when these supplies become available.”
Visit azdhs.gov/findvaccine to find a provider.
“We’ll be adding to it in the coming days, including an interactive map, as counties move into Phase 1B,” Ms. Poynter stated. “We estimate all counties moving into Phase 1B by mid- to late-January and 1C by the end of February or early March. We do not require proof of vaccination.”
Ms. Pynter explained both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine require two doses either 21 or 28 days apart. While individuals will experience some protection after the initial dose, full protection won’t be established until 1-2 weeks after the second dose, she added.
“More research is needed to determine the frequency of vaccination, whether the vaccine will be a yearly vaccine or require booster immunizations,” Ms. Poynter stated.
Sun City resident Dan Evander said he wants to see more detailed statistics regarding the virus beyond case and death counts.
“Of those that contract COVID, how many of those over the age of 75 (or 65, or 55) have symptoms?,” he asked. “Of those that have symptoms over the age of 75 (or 65, or 55) how many get sent to the hospital or emergency room? And of those that are admitted to the hospital, how many improve and are eventually released?”
He stated in an email that information would be helpful to the senior community.
“All we hear are the negative numbers, but from what some of our friends are reporting, it is not an automatic death sentence,” he stated.
Ms. Poynter stated state officials established a “data dashboard” on the ADHS website that gives a variety of stats, including case counts, broken down by age group, as well as a breakdown of hospitalizations by age group. Regarding case counts, she stated case numbers are not removed from the interactive map as people recover from the virus as the intention behind the map is to provide real-time information about community spread in a given area.
“It is important for individuals to be aware of the case rate in their area, even if people are recovering,” she stated.
However, that means the case counts will always go up, which is misleading when used as one factor in determining measures such as masking, social distancing, business shutdown and lockdown. Other factors used include infection rate and cases per 100,000 of population.
Ms. Poynter added through Jan. 8, 123,862 people in Arizona received the COVID-19 vaccine. Ms. Franklin stated as of Jan. 11, nearly 87,000 people were vaccinated in Maricopa County.
Ms. Franklin stated symptoms may or may not be reported by those of any age group who test positive for COVID-19.
“But it is fair to say that many people who decide to get a COVID-19 test likely do so because they have symptoms,” she added.
Ms. Franklin also explained it is not possible to provide a definitive answer about how many seniors who have symptoms go to a hospital or emergency room since they may or may not have been tested and determined positive.
“However, we do know that approximately 11% of all positive cases in Maricopa County are people who are 65 and older and approximately 7% of all cases in Maricopa County are hospitalized,” she stated.
In Maricopa County, approximately 7% of all COVID-19 positive cases are hospitalized; approximately 2% of all cases result in death, she added. In Maricopa County, 42% of all cased admitted to a hospital are age 65 or older and 74% of all cases who have died are age 65 or older, according to Ms. Franklin. Some Sun Cities residents questioned in several public meetings why case counts are provided by ZIP code but deaths by the same geographic area are not. Ms. Franklin said Maricopa County officials publish case rates, percent positivity and COVID-like illness percentage of hospital visits by ZIP code because these are indicators of the current situation in a ZIP code, which can help people determine their risk in the community.
“For example, these are indicators that can help schools on a week-by-week basis determine what type of learning scenario will be best for their communities,” she stated. “Death is a lagging indicator, which does not provide that information.”
Residents could still be susceptible to COVID-19 infection even after receiving the vaccine. Ms. Franklin said there have been instances in which vaccinated individuals have contracted the virus.
“Even those who are vaccinated should continue with the other prevention measures, such as washing your hands, wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart and limiting gatherings,” she stated.
As experts learn more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide under real-life conditions, it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to help stop the pandemic, according to Ms. Poynter.