Healthcare workers, long-term care residents get top priority for COVID-19 vaccine in Maricopa County

A vaccine is right around the corner, a sign of hope that health officials say in the middle of what has been a rough year for many. Doses could be available here in Maricopa County as soon as mid-December, but at first, there won't be enough for everybody.

County officials are outlining the next steps for administering COVID-19 vaccines.

"This is a herculean effort and public health has been working on this for months," said Director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department, Marcy Flanagan.

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Flanagan says about 60,000 doses of the vaccine will reach the state. 40,000 of those will be designated for use in Maricopa County. The rest will go to Pima County.

Those first doses will be given at five points of dispensing across the area, prioritizing those most vulnerable, including healthcare workers and those in long-term care facilities. That's following CDC guidelines for Phase 1A of the vaccine doses.

"As more doses become available, more people will be able to get the vaccine," said Flanagan.

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Depending on a number of factors, the first round of the vaccine could be approved and available by mid-December. That vaccine will also require a second dose three to four weeks later.

Officials say the vaccine most likely won't be administered to the general public for months, at least until the county receives more doses. But this, they say, is a big step in the right direction.

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"This vaccine is the sign of hope we have been looking for," said Flanagan.

Health officials say in the meantime, they are asking people to continue to take precautions: wear a mask, and even over the holidays, to avoid large gatherings.

Children and the vaccine

So far, a vaccine has not been approved for children.

Dr. Sean Elliot, a specialist in pediatric infectious disease at Tucson Medical Center, says it’s very normal to first test these new vaccines on adults.

It could be quite a while before we have a vaccine approved for children, he said, adding, at this point, there is not enough data available on the vaccine’s effectiveness in children.

“Which is a typical approach because as you can imagine it is a difficult thing, test on a child who may or may not be able to give their own approval or consent," Elliot said.

He explains further, “Basically, they inject RNA or nuclear material into the human body and then our body makes that product response to it."

Companies like Moderna and Pfizer have already started testing on children 12 years and older, but a vaccine from those tests will not be available for some time.

“Neither will have achieved FDA approval until possibly next summer," he said.

As the state and country move forward with vaccines for adults in the coming months, Eliott has a piece of advice, saying, “It has been demonstrated that the most contagious are adults, so the best thing to do for younger children is to get the vaccine ourselves.”

Eliott also recommends that parents and children get their flu vaccine because he says catching the flu can make a person more susceptible to the coronavirus.

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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

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