PHOENIX — Healthcare workers at Mountain Park Health Center (MPHC) across Arizona know the people living in the communities they serve by name.
“We are in the community, we have the relationships with the patients," said Director of Equity, Diversity and Engagement at MPHC Janey Pearl Starks. "There is already trust there. We know some people may still have hesitancy with the vaccine. It's much different if someone you know and trust and has been talking to you for years and now they recommend the vaccine."
Mountain Park Health Center is a federally qualified health center that primarily serves Hispanic and Latino communities in Arizona. To date, MPHCs have vaccinated 4,000 people. More than 40% Hispanic and Latino, who make up more than 30% of Arizona's population.
Staff at MPHC are growing fearful, though, that they could run out of the vaccine next week causing some of Arizona's minority community members to wait longer for a dose.
"Right now, the way we’re going, we will be running out of vaccine by late next week and we don’t have a solid confirmation yet of what vaccines we are going to get in,” said Starks.
The majority of Arizona's vaccine are allocated to the State Farm Stadium and Phoenix Municipal Stadium mass vaccination sites
During a Friday Arizona Department of Public Health Services COVID-19 vaccine conference, ADHS Director Dr. Cara Christ acknowledged the disparity in vaccine equity.
"As we move out of specific professional based phases we will be expanding the reach," said Dr. Christ. "Working with community partners like equality health and Chicanos Por La Causa."
ADHS will open a third mass vaccination site in partnership with the University of Tucson next week. Initially, the site will reduce allocations to other vaccine sites in Pima County.
Disparity in vaccine equity is concerning
"Here we have an example of a health equity issue that’s happening right now that we can actually address,” said former ADHS Director and Arizona Public Health Association Executive Director Will Humble. "We could fix scheduling with a better appointment system and better allocation decisions about where these vaccines are going."
It's clear there have been issues with the state's appointment system and some communities have challenges even accessing a digital option.
"The way the PODs have been set up have been beneficial for some, but for those that don't have technology or speak the language or don't have the transportation to get there, those are barriers for people," said Pearl Starks.
Maricopa County will begin vaccinating people 65 and older beginning on Monday
The county received 20,000 doses of Moderna this week but zero doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the state. That adds to the challenge of the county to allocate more doses to FQHCs like Mountain Park.
Maricopa Public Health officials continue to focus on planning more events using the Moderna vaccine along with supplying local pharmacies to serve those in Phase 1A and 1B prioritized.
Johnson and Johnson vaccine could be a game changer
Dr. Christ believes the state will ramp up vaccinations in March. Federal agencies will meet to discuss green-lighting the Johnson and Johnson vaccine later this month, which is a single dose shot compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
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