Operating hours to shorten at COVID-19 vaccination sites in Arizona

Arizona on March 18 announced the availability of 5,000 COVID-19 vaccination appointments at two large state-run sites in metro Phoenix.

Cancellations made the vaccination appointments for people 55 and older available for online signups at State Farm Stadium and Chandler-Gilbert Community College, the Department of Health Service said.

Officials also announced that operating hours at various COVID-19 vaccination sites will be shortened. With hotter temperatures around the corner, the State Farm Stadium POD will shift ther operating hours from 24/7, to overnight hours by April.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the state Department of Health Services, said officials are already eying indoor venues with air conditioning to replace the parking lot operations at State Farm Stadium in Glendale and Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The state has already identified a site in Mesa that will replace the vaccination clinic at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

"We know come April and May, the weather is going to be getting too warm for our volunteers and patients to be safely outside while our patients are in their cars," Christ said.

The University of Arizona site in Tucson, however, will continue administering vaccines outdoors.

Beginning April 4, State Farm Stadium, where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play, will only give out doses between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. There will be more appointment times added so the capacity of doses administered daily won’t won’t be significantly reduced, according to Christ. She is hopeful that will only run for a short time until an indoor site is ready to open.

The state continues to add to its number of vaccination sites. Yuma Civic Center will become a state-run site on March 29 in a partnership with Yuma County and Yuma Regional Medical Center. The vaccination clinic will operate from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. and administer 8,000 doses daily.

Arizona health officials are sticking to their current projection that those age 16 and older will be eligible to get the vaccine by May 1.

Public health experts say this is the beginning of the end of mass vaccination sites and emergency orders.

"Will this be a public health emergency anymore? Absolutely not," said Humble. "The higher risk people will have been vaccinated. It will be a sporadic disease."

More vaccine appointments cancelled

There are people canceling appointments because people are finding it easier to get vaccinated at their neighborhood pharmacy.

When the vaccine PODs first opened, vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech had to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures and used immediately after thawing. Now, things have changed.

"The combination of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine coming on board, the change in requirements for the freezer temperature of Pfizer," said health expert Will Humble.

Pfizer doses no longer require special freezers, so they can be distributed at more locations. In addition, there are now people who prefer the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which is being shipped directly to health centers and pharmacies.

"People are now realizing they don’t have to use the mega sites, and they don’t have to use the state’s computer system," said Humble. "They can just go to their local pharmacy."

"In a week, we do anywhere from 250 to 300 vaccines," said Sateesh Ananthu with Bethany Home Discount Pharmacy Center in Glendale.

The Glendale pharmacy has been administering the vaccine for a month now. At first, people from as far as Wickenburg and Flagstaff drove to the pharmacy to get the shot.

"Even I see some of my appointments cancelled, because the people coming from long distance, they already have their vaccines done at closer locations," said Ananthu.

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

MORE: How to sign up and schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment

MORE: Maricopa County COVID-19 vaccine status updates

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