AZDHS director explains why COVID-19 vaccine rollout appears to be slow

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ is speaking about the coronavirus vaccine and why the rollout appears to be slow.

Christ says while it may seem slow, you need to think about it in a way that we're trying to vaccinate an entire population, not just a select few people, but AZDHS does have plans to accelerate the process.

The state has been facing some criticism for how fast or slow the rollout has actually been going.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

Dr. Christ says 20% of healthcare workers have been vaccinated.

Many people are asking why it's taking so long, but Gov. Doug Ducey issued an Executive Order Dec. 30 that involves an accelerated COVID-19 distribution plan in the state.

Christ also says in the next few weeks, they hope to have all health care workers vaccinated.

AZDHS will implement a state-directed allocation model to ensure a uniform approach, rather than leaving it to each county using their own method.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

By the end of December, the state was projected to have 384,000 doses, but the final number will be 314,000. The first doses went to frontline health care workers, along with staff and residents at skilled nursing facilities.

Down the line, the vaccine will be made available to the 1-B phase for those 75 and over, law enforcement officers, teachers, and other essential workers.

"We are looking at partnering with statewide partners, such as pharmacies to increase that access. When we move into phase 1-B, we will be disseminating information so that everyone knows that we are in phase 1-B and where to go to get vaccinated," said Christ.

Now for that phase 1-B, you need to prove your age and Christ says you'll probably need to show your driver's license, a badge if you're in law enforcement, and proof that you're an essential worker.

MORE: Check your county's vaccine rollout updates

Hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 surge, vaccine distribution

The message to speed up the vaccine's distribution is also coming from Banner hospitals, which are now overcapacity.

One of the state’s largest hospital systems, Banner Health, says multiple hospitals are operating above 120% licensed bed capacity, and now they’re going to have to take some restrictive measures to keep up with mounting numbers of COVID-19 patients.

Banner hospitals paused elective surgeries as of Jan. 1, saying Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer.

"Due to the recent pressures on our health systems with the increase in patients, Banner Health has made the difficult decision to pause all elective surgeries effective Jan. 1," Bessel said, adding that hospitals and staff are stretched thinner than ever.

More hospitals than usual are diverting emergency transports from ambulances to other hospitals because they can’t take the patients. This doesn’t apply to walk-in patients.

This as the state continues to try and vaccinate more people.

"This is a new process for all of us. It’s new for Banner, it’s new for the other pods, it’s new for the counties and the states. We are all learning as quickly as possible. We absolutely must vaccinate more quickly," Bessel said.

Banner is helping to distribute vaccination doses and says they’re trying to ramp up the number of shots.

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic

Gov. Doug Ducey orders for COVID-19 vaccine distributions to be accelerated

The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine in Arizona has been asked to kick it up a few notches by "streamlining distribution throughout Arizona and establishing additional vaccination sites."

Multiple Phoenix-area hospitals diverting incoming emergency transports due to influx of patients

Banner Health announced that six of its hospitals were diverting incoming emergency patients and hospital transports due to an influx in patients.

Arizona vaccination priorities include people 75 and older

The prioritization of people 75 and older means those people most at risk will get vaccinated sooner, both protecting them and "relieving the strain on our hardworking health care professionals," Ducey said in the statement.

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In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily