One Arizona county has so many vaccine doses, it’s now able to offer them to anyone over 18
Concerned that there weren’t enough people signing up to get vaccinated against Covid-19, officials in one small Arizona county changed the vaccine eligibility requirement to encourage more people to make appointments.
Now, in Gila County Arizona — located 90 minutes east of Phoenix — anyone above the age of 18 can get vaccinated.
“We were struggling to find folks within the 65 plus category to sign up for the vaccine,” Michael O’Driscoll, Gila’s director of health and emergency management, told CNN.
As a result, O’Driscoll said he made a request to the state in February to open vaccines to the general population. The state officially approved his request on February 17.
The saturation of first dose vaccines among those eligible has been so successful that as of Thursday, people who work in Gila are now also eligible
Gila, which is a county of 54,000 people, is now in Phase 2 of administering their vaccines as of the end of February, according to O’Driscoll.
Officials credit the county’s success with vaccines to an aggressive communications campaign to ensure anyone who is eligible for the vaccine knows they’re eligible.
“What we did was we set up the pandemic exactly like what we would do during our fire season,” O’Driscoll said. “We set up our incident command very similar to that.”
The incident command structure sets up a community-wide response in which people from all different departments and communities help get vaccines to residents, O’Driscoll said.
The county reached out to health care organizations, hospitals and physicians for help. “We received such a tremendous support from those partners that we had about six partners,” O’Driscoll said.
As of Thursday, Gila has had 3,885 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 154 deaths, according to the health and emergency management Facebook page.
Cases are declining considerably in the state and county, O’Driscoll said, adding that life will change for the better in Gila because of their vaccination efforts.
“Today we have only two positive cases, where (as) about a month ago we were up to 60 a day,” he said.
There is still hesitancy among residents to get vaccinated, especially among the younger population, said Rhonda Mason, chief nursing officer at Cobre Regional Medical Center.
That, she said, is going “to challenge us to getting to herd immunity.”
Some who have gotten the vaccine said they’re grateful for the county’s efforts.
“Feels great,” Kevin Kane, 24, told CNN. “Feels like I can move on with my life when this thing’s over.”
Paul Miller, who lives in Tucson but works in Gila, told CNN that he’s glad he is now eligible to receive the vaccine in the county.
He said he hasn’t been able to visit his parents with his 2-year-old daughter in about a year.
“It’s one step closer to seeing them.”