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

Now that the pause has been lifted on the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, rural Arizona counties are gearing up to use it in the harder-to-reach areas.

However, it's not as easy at that, because the vaccine is in very short supply.

Gila County was the first in the country to vaccinate those 18 years or older, but getting to herd immunity, defined as having at 70% of a population vaccinated, has gotten tougher.

"We're slowly getting there, but we're not going to get there very quickly with just the Moderna doses," said Joshua Beck, Deputy Director for Gila County Public Health.

Even before the J&J's vaccine was temporarily paused, the state allocation to Gila County was dwindling, forcing them to rely solely on the two-shot Moderna vaccine. Records show in early March, they got 200, and then 300 doses. Figures peaked at 800 on March 22. Now, they have had three straight weeks with nothing despite, the pause being lifted. In fact, a chart submitted to the CDC by the Arizona Department of Health Services shows every county in Arizona received zero doses this week.

Officials with AZDHS say now that production is starting up again, doses should return next week.

Beck says citizens weren’t concerned by the pause.

"Our call center still shows a pretty strong need and desire out there for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine," said Beck.

Now, they’re hoping for the Pfizer vaccine too, as Gila County bought a high-tech freezer, because the Pfizer vaccine is the only one approved for 16 to 18-year-olds.

The freezer has never been filled, however, as Beck says AZDHS has kept tight control over the Pfizer shot.

"That ability to get that 16 to 18 population would be another place where we could make that jump toward getting our county to 70%," said Beck.

When the state starts receiving the J&J vaccine again, it may not be that much still. as there are only 1 to 2 million doses available nationally.

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COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)