Weather-Related Shipping Delays Continue To Disrupt Arizona's Vaccine Plans

Published: Friday, February 19, 2021 - 4:46pm
Updated: Friday, March 19, 2021 - 12:04pm
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Expected shipments of coronavirus vaccines still haven’t arrived in Arizona after severe weather nationwide led to delays this week. The state health department shifted available doses among providers to cover appointments that were already booked. But some Arizona vaccinators did have to reschedule appointments.

The delays are most likely to impact rural areas and smaller vaccine sites in Arizona. The Pfizer vaccine is shipped in large quantities and requires ultra-cold storage, so in Arizona, that vaccine is mostly being used in urban hospitals and mass vaccination sites. The Moderna vaccine is easier to ship and store, so the state has been sending that to rural counties, clinics and pharmacies. The state expected to receive more than 90,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week but still does not know when those doses will arrive. 

The vaccine sites at State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium, which use the Pfizer vaccine, are fully booked through February. The Arizona Department of Health Services said appointments at those sites will be honored. But department director Dr. Cara Christ said Friday that the shipping delays mean she doesn’t know when those sites will be able to start booking March appointments.

“We want to make sure that we can cover all of the appointments that have already been scheduled, in addition to ensuring that anything we will schedule in the future we can also cover," Christ said. "So we’ve just got to do that math when we see that final allocation.” 

Marcy Flanagan with Maricopa County Public Health said Thursday that the county also has enough Pfizer vaccine to cover appointments at its six vaccine POD sites.

“We had a strategy phone call with ADHS yesterday and we did some shifting to make sure all of the appointments that are scheduled at those locations will be honored,” Flanagan said.

Maricopa County said it's working with smaller providers to move available Moderna doses around among sites to avoid canceling appointments.

Vaccines remain in limited supply nationwide, so in most Arizona counties, appointments are only available to health care workers, adults 65 and older, educators, and other prioritized groups. Christ said she hopes the state will be able to expand eligibility to include other populations by mid-March, but she said the shipping interruption could delay Arizona’s progression onto the next phases of vaccine distribution. But Christ said she’s optimistic the backup will be resolved next week.

“Right now we’re administering 250,000 to 300,000 doses per week, so that’s a pretty good progression, so hopefully we can still stay on track,” Christ said. 

Christ also expects several more providers will begin vaccinating Arizonans in the coming weeks as the Biden administration continues to increase vaccine distribution to retail pharmacies.

→ Q&AZ: What You Need To Know About Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine In Arizona

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