Senior COVID-19 advisor to Arizona Gov. Ducey details plan to get more people vaccinated

About 57% of eligible Arizonans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and state health officials are continuing to work to get more people to change their minds about the getting the shot.

The man appointed to the task is Dr. Richard Carmona. He is a former U.S. Surgeon General, and recently was named as a key senior advisor to Gov. Doug Ducey and the Dept. of Health Services on how to respond to the pandemic.

He says his approach to getting more Arizonans inoculated is to change the narrative and tailor the message to specific groups.

Dr. Carmona is adamant in separating politics from public health, and says that he isn't trying to change any existing state laws that ban masks or enforce vaccine mandates.

"In my discussions with the Governor, I said, ‘Governor, respectfully, what I think we need to do is stay away from all of these charged words: mandates and laws.' The Governor agreed. He will stand side to side with me, and be able to tell the public: get vaccinated. Make it your decision, get vaccinated. I don’t want to sound naïve, it is political, but I’m staying away from it because that’s not productive discussion to get people healthy," said Dr. Carmona.

Instead, Dr. Carmona is trying to change the minds of those who are hesitant to get the vaccine. He says he has advised Gov. Ducey to encourage more Arizonans to get the shot, and he's hoping major influencers will spread the message as well.

"It’s about continuing to maintain economic viability, not closing businesses down. Allowing football games, basketball games, recreation," said Dr. Carmona.

Dr. Carmona's goal is for Arizona to get to herd immunity, meaning at least 70% of the population having been vaccinated. Dr. Carmona recognizes there is likely about 10% to 15% of the state's population that will simply not get vaccinated, but he is hopeful the state will reach herd immunity, and eventually see 85% of Arizonas vaccinated.

Business leaders speak out

Business leaders in Arizona say they are ready to work with Dr. Carmona, using vaccine incentives, mandates, and bringing in doctors in order to protect the workforce from COVID-19.

"The only thing hotter than the temperatures outside is our Arizona economy," said Danny Seiden, President of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce. "If that is spreading at work and causing people to miss work, it could cause the business to shut down and cause the whole economy to shut down again, so the vaccination is key to keeping this hot economy going."

Meanwhile, Arizona health officials are reporting 2,855 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and another 27 related deaths. The state's Department of Health Services dashboard released the new figures Thursday morning. This brings the totals for Arizona since the pandemic’s onset to 1,058,774 cases and 19,360 deaths.

Since Aug. 30, hospitalizations due to the virus have hovered just above 2,000. As of Wednesday, 2,050 patients were hospitalized.

Hospital systems throughout the state say unvaccinated individuals continue to make up the majority of their caseload.

Currently, 4.1 million people in Arizona — or 57.1% of the eligible population — have received at least one dose of a vaccine. More than 3.6 million have been fully vaccinated.

MORE: Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

Meanwhile, Banner Health, the biggest hospital chain serving Arizona, warned against using the anti-parasitic medicine ivermectin to ward off the virus. Last month Banner’s poison center dealt with 10 cases of people using the medicine, which does not have FDA approval. Some of the cases were serious enough to require hospitalization, said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner’s chief clinical officer.

Ivermectin is being tested in drug trials as a COVID-19 treatment. It is typically sometimes prescribed for worms, scabies and head lice. It’s more popular as a treatment for parasitic infections and infestations in livestock.

"Please speak with your primary care provider about treatment options for COVID, and do not attempt to purchase drugs like Ivermectin through unauthorized sources," Bessel said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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