Arizona primary care physicians want to help seniors struggling to register for vaccination online

Dr. Cara Christ gives Rise Stillman her second dose of the Pfizer vaccine as Frieda Allweiss awaits her second dose on Friday in Phoenix. Stillman and Allweiss are survivors of the Holocaust. (Photo by Sofia Fuentes/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Primary care physicians in Arizona say making COVID-19 vaccines available in their offices would help seniors who have struggled to make online appointments.

“I’ve been wanting to offer a vaccine ever since COVID-19 really got started because I knew that was our only way out of this illness,” Dr. Andrew Carroll of Chandler told Cronkite News. “When it (vaccines) became available, I started pushing to get it into the hands of primary care physicians, but that’s not what they were focusing on. They were focusing on this large POD (point of distribution) arrangement.”

Of the 925,763 Arizonans who have received a first dose of either vaccine, 476,023 are 65 or older – which means at least half of first doses have gone to senior citizens – according to the latest data available Monday from the Arizona Department of Health Services. As of the first week of February, 430,000 residents of Maricopa County had received at least one dose of vaccine. Additionally, Arizona has distributed more than 120,000 second doses and announced that more than 1 million shots had been distributed as of Feb. 11.

Carroll said many of his patients either don’t have a computer or lack the knowledge to register for the vaccine online, which is why he pushed for his offices to become a vaccine site.

Among Arizonans who needed help navigating the vaccine signup system were Donald Matteo and his wife, who were struggling to get appointments at the state POD sites.

“There was a great feeling of anxiety that maybe we’re running into this barrier that we couldn’t get through,” he said.

(Video by Abby Vaerewyck/Cronkite News)

But those fears ended when their physician called to offer vaccinations in-office.

“Once that happened, it was a great relief,” Matteo said, who has since been vaccinated along with his wife. “It was like greased lightning.”

That’s a big reason doctors have been pushing for access to the vaccines, Carroll said.

“I think it’s a really important model throughout our state to get vaccines in the hands of primary care physicians because that’s where patients really want to go to get their shots,” he said.

In a blog post last week, Dr. Cara Christ, the state’s health chief, said unpredictable supply of vaccines makes it difficult to plan long-term for vaccination events.

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“Federal partners are optimistic that the coming weeks will provide a more consistent and potentially increased vaccine allocation and distribution to state and local partners,“ Christ wrote.

For a select group of seniors, the chance to survive COVID-19 holds historic significance.

On Friday, the state health department partnered with the Phoenix Holocaust Association to begin vaccinating Holocaust survivors who live in Arizona.

“Because of their age, we knew that Holocaust survivors would need help registering, and we also know that they’re especially vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19,” said Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the association. “We are grateful for the rapid and compassionate response from the state of Arizona.”

State officials said in a release they’ve helped about 40 survivors register for appointments, and at times have helped spouses register for vaccination “to provide them with even more protection.”

News Reporter, Los Angeles

Sabrina Kenoun expects to graduate in May 2021 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and English literature and a minor in film and media production. Kenoun, who also reports for the State Press, is working for Cronkite News this spring.

News Reporter, Phoenix

Abigail Vaerewyck expects to graduate in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and a certification in nonprofit leadership and management. Vaerewyck has been involved in several student organizations on ASU’s Tempe and Phoenix campuses.

Sofia Fuentes so-FEE-uh fuen-tes
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Sofia Fuentes expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.