State’s top health official updates employers on vaccine rollout and what it means for them

Arizona’s top public health official spoke with the business community last week about the Covid vaccine rollout in the state and recommendations for bringing workers back to the office. 

Vaccines are the key to getting back to normalcy, said Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS), who spoke to employers last week at an event hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. 

Dr. Cara Christ

Limited supplies are arriving weekly to the state, and CEOs, managers and team members should get vaccinated as soon as they are able and share their experiences with employees, Christ said.

“Talk confidently about the vaccine. Get the vaccine and share your experience,” said Christ, who added that few people experience side effects and the shot is less painful than a flu shot. “The vaccine is safe and effective. Encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as they can.”  

At the virtual event, Christ talked about what businesses and other organizations can expect in the next few months. 

Among her key points:

Supply expected to meet demand by April 

Arizona has vaccinated more than 1.2 million people. Around 150,000 vaccine doses are arriving into the state weekly and the new Johnson and Johnson one-dose vaccine is expected to start arriving in small quantities in March. The vaccination is 87 percent effective, a higher rate than the flu vaccine, Christ said. 

Currently, all counties have moved into the second phase of six vaccination phases, Phase 1B. In Phase IB, people 65 and older may receive vaccinations. Essential employees and the general public will follow over the next two months. 

In Phase 1B, counties will be prioritizing populations based on risk. Teachers and childcare workers are among those who will be at the front of the line. Other essential workers like restaurants and food service will follow. 

Finally, the general public under 65 years old could see vaccines available as soon as next month. In April, the state should be able to meet all demand, Christ said. By June, everyone who is going to get a vaccine should be immunized.  

Employers of essential employees can fill out vaccine request 

Essential frontline workers will be vaccinated in Phase 1B and 1C as vaccine availability increases statewide.

Employers with essential employees who have not done so may complete the Essential

Employer Vaccine Request Form so counties can notify them as vaccines become available. 

Also, large employers may contact their respective counties to set up on-site vaccination programs when they become available, Christ said. 

Anyone may also register for an appointment on the state website and may get vaccinated at a location near them. Many health care providers and pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens are offering vaccinations as doses become available. 

Continue to take precautions, follow requirements for capacity

While Covid case numbers, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and ventilations are down, positivity rates are still not where they should be, Christ said. 

Current positivity rates in the state are at 6.9 percent, well below the peak of 24.4 percent in December. For the virus to be considered well under control, health officials recommend it stay below 5 percent for at least two weeks. 

For that reason, businesses are still required to take measures to protect the public. Certain industries like restaurants, gyms, theaters, and water parks are required to limit capacity. To see requirements and recommendations for specific businesses, visit: ADHS Covid-19 requirements for businesses

For now, all employers are advised to continue to take all precautions to protect their employees and customers including wearing masks, sanitizing frequently and not coming to work when ill, Christ said. 

For employers considering moving remote workers back to the office, Christ said she would like to see “low-moderate or minimal spread” in the community with low positivity and hospitalization rates. 

“We know Covid is still circulating and want to make sure even if you are vaccinated or around other people vaccinated to still wear masks,” Christ said. 

Vaccinations are opening up in phases 

Vaccines are being administered in six phases:

Phase 1A – Healthcare workers and healthcare support occupations, emergency medical services workers, long-term care facility staff and residents

Priority Phase 1B – Education and childcare workers, protective services occupations, adults 65 and older and remaining 1A populations

Phase 1B – Essential services and critical industry workers, adults with high-risk conditions in congregate settings, and remaining 1A and prioritized 1B populations

Phase 1C – Adults of any age with high-risk medical conditions, adults living in congregate settings, and remaining 1A and 1B populations

Phase 2 – Additional high-risk and critical populations, general public and remaining phase 1 populations

Phase 3 – General public and remaining phase 1 and 2 populations

More vaccination appointments opening this month  

Currently, all appointments are filled right now but more openings are expected at the end of February and beginning of March, Christ said.

About 500 provider sites are administering vaccines and anyone wishing to get vaccinated can register on the state at the DHS interactive site at ADHS vaccine registration. If anyone does not have the technology to register or make an appointment online, they can call 1-844-542-8201 and receive assistance in English or Spanish. 

Many health care providers and doctors as well as pharmacies including Walgreens, CVS, Fry’s and Safeway are administering vaccines as they come in. 

Christ said the impressive rollout of vaccines could not have been possible without the  health care partners “who have really stepped up to provide vaccinations” and other services.

“This is a team effort. A week ago we were below 50 percent utilization. Now we’re at 80 percent,” she said. “We’re hoping where eventually everyone can find a vaccine in their normal location or with their normal health care provider.”

For frequently asked questions about where to get a vaccine, visit: ADHS vaccine finder information. 

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

As Arizona progresses through the phased vaccination process, public health officials recommend everyone continue to:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • It is especially important to clean hands after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  • Check if your hand sanitizer has been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA maintains an up-to-date list of hand sanitizers that consumers should avoid due to possible toxic effects. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay at home when you are sick.
  • Avoid close contact (within six feet) with others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) and immediately throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Wear masks in public settings if they can be safely managed.
  • If you are at higher risk for severe illness, you should avoid attending congregate settings. People at higher risk for severe illness include adults 65 or older and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.

Victoria Harker

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