Gila County looks to begin Pfizer vaccines for those 12 and up pending FDA approval

Pfizer expects the FDA to make a ruling soon on approving the COVID-19 vaccine for those 12 and older and the decision will have broad implications as cities and counties attempt to hit herd immunity in Arizona.

Gila County health officials have been waiting almost a year now to use a secret weapon in the battle against COVID-19 and they say next week they may finally use it.

The county has been storing a medical freezer, set at negative 70 degrees, with the hopes of receiving doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

"We wanted to make sure we had the ability to store it and to administer it to our residents," said Paula Horn with the Gila County Health Department.

Has anything ever been in that freezer? No, it’s been empty and still is despite being able to hold up to 30,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

RELATED: Rural Arizona counties hoping for more Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine doses

The state health department has only given Pfizer doses to a few counties and the rest received Moderna doses, which are only approved for 18 and older, but are much easier to store.

With the FDA expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for those ages 12 and up, Gila County is expecting to get more of the vaccine.

"We would love to be first in the country," says Joshua Beck with the Gila County Health Department.

Beck says they’re getting close and getting Pfizer for teenagers will allow them to go to high schools.

"We’re finally going to get to really understand what percent of that population is going to get vaccinated and if we hit herd immunity or not," Beck says.

RELATED: Need a COVID-19 vaccine? If you're a resident and over 18, you can get one in Gila County

Horn says they have experience with immunization drives at high schools.

"We do roll and gos out to the schools to make sure that it’s just easier and convenient for parents to sign a consent form and have your student immunized at the school," she explained.

Speed is important with the school year ending in a few weeks.

"It’s still kind of the wrap up of the school year so we are going to attempt to contact the schools and see the interest," Horn said.

Gila County officials say they should be able to request the Pfizer vaccine starting early next week from the state. At that point, it may just be a few days or a week longer before they start to receive it.