Basha’s warehouse

A Bashas’ worker guided cars for vaccinations at a Basha’s warehouse near the I-10 and Chandler Boulevard in Chandler two months ago.

Ahwatukee leads the rest of Phoenix and the East Valley in the percentage of fully vaccinated residents but that rate has barely increased over the last few weeks, according to data released last week by the county health department.

Among Ahwatukee’s three ZIP codes, the percentage of fully vaccinated people is the highest in 85045, with 59.3 percent. That’s followed by 53.1 percent in 85048 and 50.6 percent in 85044, according to the county.

Those rates have barely moved in recent weeks.

In Phoenix citywide, only 39.2 percent of residents are fully vaccinated – a few 10ths of a percentage point less than Mesa’s rate.

Chandler’s fully vaccinated rate stands at 48 percent while Gilbert’s is at 43 percent and Tempe at 43.6 percent.

The latest data comes amid suggestions by the state’s top health official that Arizona may not meet the president’s goal of getting 70 percent of residents vaccinated against the coronavirus by July 4.

“Historically, Arizona has had pockets of vaccine hesitancy, even before COVID-19,’’ said Dr. Cara Christ. “That kind of sets a baseline.’’

At the same time, she said, there has been a sharp decline in the number of vaccines being administered.

“A lot of Arizonans are independent,’’ Christ said. “They want to make these decisions on their own.’’

Her prime weapon, she said, is getting out information about the vaccines, how it’s safe, effective and free. And Christ said she still believes that Arizona can get to 70 percent eventually.

Some of it, she said, are the “wait and see’’ crowd who are sitting on the sidelines, waiting for some specific reason to get inoculated and watching for reports of side effects.

“But if there was an uptick in cases, maybe those wait-and-see would be, ‘All right, maybe I’m not going to wait and see any more, I’m going to get vaccinated,’ ‘’ Christ said.

That flagging interest in getting inoculated is reflected in the numbers.

At its peak, the sites run by her agency was administering more than 169,000 doses a week. And on one of those days, Christ said, more than 12,000 shots were put into arms in a 24-hour period.

By contrast, only 13,000 doses were given out all of last week at all the state sites.

All that played into her decision earlier this week to shut down all the state-run mass vaccination sites, with the last shots in arms by June 28. 

Tempe Union will host Pfizer vaccination events for ages 12 and up at Desert Vista High School on June 24 for the first dose and July 13 for the second. To make an appointment, go to maricopa.gov and search "COVID."

Arizonans are still getting ill from COVID-19. On Friday, the health department reported another 346 new cases and 20 additional deaths. And 5 percent of the tests for the virus came back positive.

Newly released county data show one Ahwatukee ZIP code – for the first time since the pandemic began – recorded no   positive new test results. ZIP code 85045 also showed only 12 cases per 100,000 – and indication of low transmission.

ZIP code 85048 showed 25 cases per 100,000 and a 2.8 percent positivity rate – which puts it at an overall moderate transmission level – while 85044 had a moderate level of transmission as well 40 cases per 1000,000 and a 5.9 percent positivity rate.

Christ said there will be a continued move to getting the vaccine into the community, ranging from its availability at pharmacies, including in grocery stores, to pop-up clinics and events. 

And she said that more than 260 doctors are taking advantage of their ability to get the vaccine directly, with close to 58,000 doses already ordered.

But the health director said the decision to shutter those state-run sites is not permanent, especially if there is a new outbreak. And that, said Christ, remains a possibility.

“We’re always watching for a potential surge in cases, given there’s so many unknowns about COVID-19 and potential variants,’’ she said. For the moment, though, Christ said there has been a “stabilization’’ in cases.

“If there is another demand we can stand these sites up relatively quickly,’’ she said, pointing out it took less than a week to get the site at State Farm Stadium operating.

Separately, Christ is continuing to push for parents to get their teens, age 12 and up, vaccinated now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer vaccine for that age group. 

But she said that requires parents paying attention to where they are making appointments, as not all sites have the Pfizer vaccine which has more stringent storage requirements than either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Christ said Arizona continues to look at incentives to get people vaccinated, though nowhere near the million-dollar lotteries being operated by some states.

The state vaccination sites were high volume for a particular demographic, “which was wealthy, white, and retired people who were able to go whenever they wanted to get an appointment and access technology,” said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

Humble pointed to challenges that have made it harder for lower-income residents to get vaccinated, including transportation, time off from work, a lack of access to technology and language barriers.

“The state needs to give more money to county health departments so they can do more mobile vaccination events at people’s work, allowing them to get vaccinated on their lunch break,” Humble said.

Humble said the state still needs to do more to reach underserved communities, by getting trusted members of the community to disseminate vaccine information, and to reach young adults, who have the lowest vaccination rates of any group.

“There needs to be more creative and convenient opportunities for people in their 20s and 30s to get vaccinated,” he said, suggesting such “spontaneous” events like mobile pop-up events outside nightclubs and bars so young people do not have to go out of their way to get vaccinated.

This story is based on reporting by Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, AFN and Cronkite News.

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