What you need to know as COVID-19 vaccination gets underway in Arizona

Vaccination efforts are getting underway in Arizona and other parts of the country, after two vaccines, one by Pfizer and BioNTech and the other by Moderna, were granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

1. What's the difference between the COVID-19 vaccines?

While various countries have approved various COVID-19 vaccines, only the vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have received emergency use authorization in the United States.

According to Dr. Ross Goldberg with the Arizona Medical Association, both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are pretty much equal. Previously, FOX 10 reported that based on preliminary data from an ongoing study, Moderna's vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, while Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine appears to be 90% effective, based on early and incomplete test results.

The difference between the two vaccines, however, comes in the storage and the number of days for the booster shot.

"Pfizer needs to be stored in an ultra-cold storage, -100 degrees, and Moderna can be stored in a regular fridge you can find in an office," said Dr. Goldberg. (More details on how the Pfizer vaccines are stored are included below)

The timing of the vaccine is also different, according to Dr. Goldberg. Pfizer's vaccine has a 21-day difference between the two doses, and Moderna is 28 days.

"You have to get the second shot, because we have no information saying that you are protected after that first dose and first dose alone," said Dr. Goldberg. "Maybe in the future, there will be more research, but right now, the argument is you won't be protected as far as we know because we don't have the data to back that up."

2. When did the vaccines first arrive in Arizona?

The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines arrived on Dec. 14, in line with what officials with the Governor's Office announced on Dec. 9, when they say vaccines will start to arrive on the week of Dec. 13

In all, Arizona is expected to receive 383,750 COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of December, and in the first week, vaccine doses will be distributed to Maricopa and Pima counties.

"Maricopa will receive approximately 47,000 doses and Pima will receive approximately 11,000 doses, totaling approximately 58,000 doses," read a portion of a statement released by officials with the Governor's Office.

"Moving forward, we expect weekly allocations in order to continue vaccinating more and more people each week," said Dr. Cara Christ with the Arizona Department of Health Services on Dec. 11.

However, on Dec. 18, FOX 10 reported that Arizona is expected to receive 28,000 fewer COVID-19 vaccines for the week of Dec. 20.

In Maricopa County, the first vaccine doses arrived at a secure warehouse location. Then, along with the help of sheriff's deputies, the vaccines were taken to two pod locations (more on that below), where they are being stored at the very low temperature of -78°C.

Six ultra-low temperature freezers were purchased by HonorHeath to house the Pfizer vaccine at the temperature required. Shots that arrived in Maricopa have already been assigned to thousands of health care workers in the Valley, with some in the 1A priority group set to receive the vaccine at a drive-thru site on the morning of Dec. 17.

According to Dr. Jim Whitfill the, Senior Vice President of HonorHealth, the site can do 1,000 vaccinations a day, but will ramp up slowly.

3. How will the vaccines get transported to Arizona?

With some COVID-19 vaccine, there is the challenge of keeping it at an ultralow temperature so that it remains effective. Experts explain that in comparison to traditional vaccines, the vaccine Pfizer and Moderna covid vaccines are built on Messenger RNA, which is why they need to be kept frozen.

On Dec. 12, FOX 10 has learned that two major delivery companies, FedEx and UPS, are handling COVID-19 shipments, with FedEx leading operations on the West Coast while UPS handles operations on the East Coast.

Over the course of three days, the plan is to distribute the vaccines to more than 600 distribution sites across the country, with the goal of getting the most vulnerable vaccinated as soon as possible.

Starting on Dec. 14, the vaccines will be rolling out of a manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., and shipped to distribution sites across the United States. In most cases, the sites are large hospitals or other storage facilities.

150 of those sites are expected to get shipments on Dec. 14, another 425 on Dec. 15, and 66 should receive the vaccine on Dec. 16.

Officials with UPS have released a statement, on the measures taken to keep the vaccine cold. They say as part of the so-called "Operation Warp Speed," they will be producing over 24,000 pounds of ice every day, in addition to purchasing a freezer farm. They also have a newly designated 24/7 command center to track shipments, and to keep tabs on the temperature of these vaccines.

"Extensive coordination will ensure that this occurs," said Gen. Gustave Perna, the Chief Operating Officer for Operation Warp Speed. "We worked with Pfizer, McKesson, UPS, FedEx, federal and local law enforcement agencies to ensure safety and security of the vaccine."

FedEx will also be getting ice to keep the vaccines cold, and transporting the vaccines using priority overnight service. In a statement, officials with the company said they will utilize "Temperature control solutions, near real-time monitoring capabilities, and a dedicated healthcare team to support the express transportation of vaccines and bioscience shipments."

In addition, FedEx's CEO added that this is "among the most important work in the history of our company, and we’re honored to be a part of the effort to help end this pandemic."

4. How will be vaccines be stored?

In Arizona, the University of Arizona is among those helping to store the vaccines in an appropriate manner.

On Dec. 11, FOX 10 reported on UArizona's vaccine freezers. Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management at University of Arizona Christopher Kopach says the university has received a shipment of seven -80°C (-112°F) freezers to store vaccines. The university is also expecting a couple more -20°C (-4°F) freezers.

"They’re upright freezers roughly, let’s say, about eight feet high, four feet wide, and we can put in roughly 140,000 vials of the vaccine in there," said Kopach.

All the freezers in total are capable of storing 1.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. There is also a plan in place in case of a power cut.

"If we ever had electrical bump where we lost power, we have proper redundancy in here that it would not affect the -80," said Kopach.

5. How will the vaccines be distributed?

Vaccines will be given at drive-thru spots, also known as pods. Maricopa County will have five spots ready.

One of thee pods is in Chandler, where Dignity Health was practicing a dry run on the morning of Dec. 11.

"It feels like we’re coming to an end of something, and if the public can continue to wear masks, good hand hygiene, practice social distancing, we can get these vaccines rolled out and get back to some version of the new normal," said Heather James with Dignity Health.

As mentioned above, vaccines will begin to be administered on Dec. 17. Ann-Marie Alameddin, President and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, says pod setup in the state is ongoing, with needs to be prepped and ready before shots can start.

6. Who will get the vaccine first?

According to a draft COVID-19 vaccination plan released by the Arizona Department of Health Services, vaccine distribution will take a phased approach.

During the first phase, state officials say supplies may be constrained, and vaccination efforts will focus on, at first, people serving in healthcare settings who "have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials and are unable to work from home," later expanding to other essential workers and people who have a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness, including those 65 years of age or older.

Eventually, vaccination efforts will focus on the general population.

On Dec. 12, Maricopa County opened up their site for healthcare workers to sign up and get the vaccine. Dr. Frank Lovecchio signed up with no hesitation.

"I'm excited, I think it's going to change some morale inside the hospital. Obviously, you have to get two shots to get the full immunization, I think when you get that first shot, you're on your way towards closure to this and making your first step to return to normalcy," said Dr. Lovecchio.

Dr. Lovecchio says that people ask him all the time if he's getting the vaccine, and the answer is yes. Dr. Lovecchio says the risk-benefit ratio suggests that people have to, adding that the great majority of his peers will get vaccinated.

"The interesting thing about the hospitals is they are not requiring us to get it. I think that's an interesting approach," said Dr. Lovecchio.

While many people are reluctant to get the vaccine, Dr. Lovecchio says it's imperative to reach herd immunity, which is estimated to be achieved when 70% of the population is either vaccinated or otherwise immune to the virus.

"The likelihood of you dying from COVID-19 to this vaccine is not even close. More likely to get sick with the virus then the vaccine, from what we know so far," said Dr. Lovecchio.

Dr. Natasha Bhuyan with One Medical says initially, there won't be enough vaccines to get everyone, not even healthcare workers.

"We don’t have enough doses to make sure that every single healthcare worker gets it this week," said Dr. Bhuyan. "It is going to be a several week process before all healthcare workers get it."

As for the general public, they are expected to get vaccinated in the spring of 2021.

"I can't wait for the people to start getting the vaccine, because that's really where we want to get to that level distributing enough within the general public so we can start loosening up these regulations," said Dr. Goldberg. "I wore a mask today. I'm still physically distancing. We can't let up on that until a larger segment of the population has received these vaccines."

7. How much will the vaccine cost?

In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Dec. 2 that he has signed an executive order, that will allow all Arizonans to receive the vaccine for free. Gov. Ducey added that taxpayer dollars will not be used to pay for the vaccines.

8. So, with the vaccine getting out to people, does this mean I don't have to wear a mask anymore?

No.

One doctor who spoke with FOX 10's Jennifer Martinez on Dec. 13 said while there is a vaccine on the way, people will need to continue to wear a mask.

"Now is not the time to throw caution to the wind because I worry that we are going to see a surge in January or February," said Dr. Natasha Bhuyan with One Medical. "It’s important to remember that people are getting vaccinated right now, that is important, but there are many people who are getting sick with the virus right now."

Dr. Bhuyan also says while research trials show the vaccine can prevent symptomatic COVID-19 infections in the person itself, there are still unknowns.

"What we don’t know is if the vaccine can prevent someone from spreading asymptomatic infection, and hopefully we get the results of that in the next few months, but until then, when we get to vaccinate, we have to continue to wear a mask," said Dr. Bhuyan.

9. What are medical professionals thinking about the vaccine?

In a survey of health care workers, only 55% of those who responded said they’d be very likely or likely to get the vaccine. That is not stopping emergency room doctor Amish Shah to sign up for the vaccine.

Dr. Shah has already signed up on the Maricopa County website to be vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine. He sees the ravages of the Coronavirus daily.

"When you have a situation which poses as much risk as it does, we have to take on a little additional risk when it comes to taking those vaccines," said Dr. Shah.

Meanwhile, one Valley nurse says she is torn on whether to get the shot.

"Since this is the very first one, that makes me a little 50-50," said the nurse. "We haven’t used very much or known long-term side effects. Just weighing the pros and cons with the information we have available, and I'm just waiting."

The nurse says she feels no pressure from her employer to get the vaccine, and supports her many colleagues who have signed up to get it.

"I do want to know if there's any impact. I also want to hear from my colleagues," the nurse said.

10. What are other people thinking about the vaccine?

According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey, only half of all Americans surveyed are ready for the vaccine, but one person who spoke with FOX 10 on Dec. 11 says he is ready for the vaccine. Shawn Trobla's aunt is in an assisted living facility. Those in such facilities will be among the first to receive the vaccines, since it is known that most of the deaths related to COVID-19 have occurred in people over 75 years old.

"I am really grateful she will be prioritized based on her residential setting. It is so important," said Trobla.

Trobla hasn't been able to see her aunt for nine months, and the thought of being reunited brought tears to her eyes.

"It will be very celebratory," said Trobla. "I mean, it has been 9 months. We haven’t been able to hug her, she hasn’t been able to hug us."

"It gives us hope for normalcy coming up soon," said David Voepel, CEO for the Arizona Healthcare Association.

Voepel says all 147 of the skilled nursing facilities in Arizona signed up for the vaccine, which means 27,000 residents and staff who can be vaccinated. The distribution for those facilities will start on Dec. 27, and assisted living facilities will be the week after that.

"They can opt out. Anyone can opt out. It is not mandatory from any end," said Voepel. "We are encouraging everyone to get it because it seems like a safe shot."

CVS and Walgreens partners will vaccinate staff and residents in the facility, and they will conduct a total of three visits. Then, visits with family may be able to start again.

"We are hoping the vaccine gets up there, and it is wrapped up by first part of January, and hopefully by February, March, and spring, we can get back to normal and we can do social activities," said Voepel.

Trobia says after such a long year, this is bringing hope to her and her family that they can finally be together.

"When we can be together, it will be a nice celebratory party," said Trobla.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus

https://espanol.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19

https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home

https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/es/covid-19/index.php#novel-coronavirus-home (In Spanish/En Español)