Biden holds up Arizona’s mass vaccination sites as a model for nation

(Video by Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called Arizona’s around-the-clock COVID-19 vaccination site at State Farm Stadium a “model for the nation” Monday, as the administration pushes its goal of administering 100 million shots in its first 100 days.

The virtual tour for Biden, joined by Vice President Kamala Harris, came as the Arizona Department of Health Services said it has administered more than 920,000 doses of vaccine, two-thirds of the 1.3 million scheduled to be shipped to the state.

“You are a role model of how this kind of approach can work, and thank you for that, because it’s not easy being a role model and being one of the first,” Harris said.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, said the stadium site has been able to deliver up to 400 drive-through vaccinations an hour and as many as 9,000 doses a day, despite initial concerns about demand at the 24/7 site, the state’s first.

“We weren’t sure that we would have the demand … that we needed,” Christ said as she led the virtual tour of the sprawling operation. “However, our sites and appointments book up very quickly, and our flow through the night is just the same as it is during the day.”

The tour also comes as members of the state’s congressional delegation pressed the White House for additional vaccine deliveries to Arizona, with Maricopa County health officials reporting that they are running low on one of the two approved version of the vaccine.

County health officials said in a statement Monday that they have received no new doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, although they currently have enough to honor vaccination appointments through Friday. The county did get a shipment of 20,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine that should let it continue to vaccinate priority patients.

“We are not canceling appointments,” said Ron Coleman, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management, adding that the state “has committed to keeping Maricopa County POD’s (points of delivery) operating at current capacity by providing doses on an as needed basis from its supply.”

“Everyone recognizes this is a shared supply problem that we must solve together,” Coleman said in an email Monday.

Maj. Gen. McGuire, adjutant general of the Arizona National Guard, walks through the COVID-19 mass vaccination site at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale in this file photo from early January. Since it was opened as a 24/7 vaccination sites by the state, more than 160,000 doses of vaccine have been administered there. (Photo by Spec. Mykaela Martin/Arizona Army National Guard)

Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, both Democrats, and Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Phoenix, made separate appeals to the Biden administration last week for an additional 300,000 doses a week for Arizona.

“While we appreciate the recent increase in allocations to states, it was not enough to meet Arizona’s needs or increase availability in our hardest-hit communities,” the senators’ letter said.

Stanton noted that scheduled vaccination slots fill up almost as soon as they come open, which is why the state needs more vaccines.

“My state is hurting,” Stanton wrote Thursday to Jeff Zients, the COVID-19 response coordinator and counselor to Biden. “Arizonans have been forced to wait for hours online or by phone to book vaccination appointments … An emergency allocation is essential to eliminate the current shortfalls we have.”

Zients led off Monday’s virtual tour by noting that Arizona was one of the first states to ask the new Biden administration for help setting up vaccination sites. Since then, he said, almost 300 federal workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies have been deployed to Arizona, including more than 100 vaccinators over the weekend.

Zients said FEMA on Sunday awarded Arizona $20 million for COVID-19 response, including vaccinations, and said the federal government is picking up the tab for Arizona National Guard soldiers deployed to help.

“This stadium is a model for other communities across the country on how they can operate in partnership with the federal government to vaccinate more people,” said Zients, who said the State Farm Stadium site alone has already administered more than 160,000 doses.

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The state last week opened a second mass-vaccination site, at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and Christ said Monday that more are planned for other parts of the state, including Pima County. She credited much of the state’s success to its partnership with federal officials, saying that without their help setting up the sites would have been “a huge logistical lift.”

In addition to the mass vaccination sites, Christ said the state is working with counties and with approved pharmacies around the state to make sure “we’re getting those vaccines … in hard-hit areas as well as our community health centers.”

The state is currently vaccinating people in phases 1A and priority 1B, which includes health care workers, residents and staff in long-term care facilities, teachers and child care workers, and people over age 65, among others. Some counties have moved on to phase 1B, which includes essential workers and adults with underlying conditions in group settings.

While cases have started to ease off after a recent surge, Arizona was leading the nation as recently as a week ago for rates of new cases and hospitalizations, and second for the rate of COVID-19 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Monday, there had been 782,887 coronavirus cases confirmed in Arizona and 14,055 deaths from the virus, according to data from the state health department.

Biden and Harris said they hope to see more states following Arizona’s lead.

“There are folks around the country who are going to benefit from the work you all are doing on the ground in Arizona – people who may not know your name, people you may not meet, but are going to be forever benefited because of your around-the-clock hard work,” Harris said.

Sarah Oven Se-ra Oh-ven (she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Sarah Oven expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’ degree in journalism. Oven, who has interned with The Arizona Republic and The Cronkite Journal, is working for the Phoenix news bureau.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Maddyn Johnstone-Thomas expects to graduate in May 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism with a minor in digital audiences and a certificate in sales and marketing. Johnstone-Thomas, who has interned with Sports360AZ and Arizona Sports 98.7, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.