By Sarah Klingenstein
January 30, 2021

“When can I get my COVID vaccine?” It’s on almost everyone’s mind. A lot of the talk is about how many doses of the vaccine Santa Cruz County has and the fact that, when someone calls or goes online to register, the appointments have all been taken.

The problem is slow vaccine allocation, both to the states in general, and to our area specifically. Dr. Cara Christ, AZ Health Director, says that the state is only receiving one third of the number of doses it could administer. Local media has reported that southern counties have received allotments that are woefully insufficient for our population, with an inequitable amount going to other parts of the state.  

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce Bracker said, “We are fighting for vaccines, applying as much pressure as possible.” State Representative Rosanna Gabaldon, among other local legislators, has been carrying the message to the State Department of Health and the Governor. “My constituency is frustrated,” she said on Jan. 22. “We need ADHS to consider the whole state, not just certain parts…I ask local residents to make their voices heard as well.” She suggested that people concerned about vaccine availability call 520-628-6580 or email engage@az.gov to send a message to Governor Ducey.

That pressure may be helping. Bracker said that, after being told earlier to expect 200 doses per week, the State is increasing the number of vaccines to be distributed to our area. Jeff Terrell, Santa Cruz Health Director, reported on Jan. 22, “This week we received 1,400 doses for first-time administration and 1000 for second shots. We expect 1,000 first doses next week, as well as second doses. In addition, the State Health Department understands that they did not account for the additional needs of vaccinating all the federal border employees, and we are hopeful that they will address that.”

“We are still working through vaccinating the highest priorities of Group 1B,” Terrell explained. “Teachers and staff at schools and day care centers are high on the list after that. We will work with each school district to prioritize those most vulnerable within that group. Those who are older and have greater exposure will be vaccinated first.” According to local school leaders, that process has already begun. The County has asked for their prioritized lists and has started making appointments for school staff.

Dr. Pereira said it has been frustrating to not know more than a week ahead how many doses they will get. “It makes it very hard to schedule people, and leads to frustration, but we are glad to say that we have not had to cancel any appointments we’ve made.”

Bracker described the appointment process. “On our County homepage, there is a form to fill out. We also encourage people to call in to (520) 375-7626. We have found offering several ways to reach us to be the most equitable, especially when we are trying to reach out to people over 75 years of age. Once someone signs up in Santa Cruz County, their information is registered and they will be contacted when their priority group comes up.” 

It’s an extremely time-consuming process at this time, which will hopefully get more streamlined. “I spent nine hours the other day scheduling 75 appointments,” Bracker said, describing the “all hands on deck” effort underway.

Cynie Murray, of Patagonia, who works in home health care, recounted her experience. “I care for a client who is at high risk. It was important to the client’s family that I be vaccinated as soon as possible. It took several tries, because I am not technically within one of the groups being prioritized right now, but each time I called, someone did return my call, and eventually I got an appointment.”

According to a recent article in tucson.com, there is no geographical restriction on the vaccines within the state. Anyone can try to sign up for an appointment in any county. 

All the local professionals told the PRT that, while they look forward to holding vaccination clinics outside of Nogales in various communities in Santa Cruz, it will be a while before the supply is sufficient to begin that process. The Mariposa Community Health Clinic, which is working with the County to staff the vaccination sites, is seeking clinical personnel that can provide assistance with vaccine administration on an on-call basis. Dr. Pereira asks any interested people to go to the Center’s website: mariposachc.net and click on “Careers.”