Editor's note: This story was last updated on Friday, Jan. 15 and includes an update about a new phone number for vaccine registration assistance announced by Pima County.
Just a few hours after Pima County opened COVID-19 registration Thursday morning for seniors 75 and older and other populations in priority group 1b, all 20,000 available appointments were filled.
"This is causing frustration for members of the public who are still trying to get vaccination appointments at the County's vaccine registration portal," county health officials said in a news release. "More appointments will be made available as we confirm with the state increased distribution of vaccines to Pima County and as two other vaccination centers come online next week focused on educators and people employed in protective services."
More appointments will likely be made available after the county receives its next vaccine shipment scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Eligible residents are still encouraged to register online and wait to be notified via email about the next available appointment.
People who are 75 and older can register online now for vaccinations at Tucson Medical Center or Banner Health at www.pima.gov/covid19vaccineregistration.
For help registering by phone at the Tucson Medical Center site call 520-222-0119. The hotline will be open through the holiday weekend including Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 18 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular hours for the hotline will be Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Starting Friday, Jan. 15, the county will begin vaccinating community members in the 1B priority group starting first with individuals who are 75 or older. Other groups prioritized in phase 1B are protective service employees and educators, including childcare workers, who will be vaccinated at centers opening next week.
There are about 150,000 people who fall into those three categories, says Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen. When people who are 65 and older are added into this priority group, that number will grow to more than 400,000 people.
"We appreciate people's understanding about how difficult it will be to get through this list," Cullen says.
While other parts of the state and country are prioritizing vaccines for people ages 65 and up based on new federal guidance, Pima County so far is continuing to prioritize vaccines for those 75 and up. Cullen says that decision was made because of current vaccine supplies and because that's the age group with the highest hospitalization and mortality rates in our area.
Earlier this week, the county released an "aggressive" COVID-19 acceleration plan outlining measures to increase vaccine distribution with an ambitious goal of vaccinating 700,000 people by the end of June.
However, reaching that number is entirely dependent on the amount of vaccine doses the county receives from the state each week, and officials ask the community to be patient through the process.
"One really critical element that needs to be articulated to our community is that at this point the limiting factor is vaccine availability," says Dr. Francisco Garcia, Pima County chief medical officer "Yes, we will get to the kind of population coverage that we think is necessary to achieve community protection, but this is a multi-month process, so being the first at the gate for a vaccination is not necessarily absolutely essential."
Vaccination sites are already set up at Banner-University Medical Center and Tucson Medical Center. A site at Kino Sports Complex will open Jan. 18 and sites at the University of Arizona, Tucson Convention Center will open on Jan. 20.
Here's what to know about the vaccination process so far.
Who is part of the 1B priority group?
The 1B group has two different phases. The first phase gives priority to people in these three categories:
- Individuals ages 75 and older
- Protective service employees: law enforcement, corrections, firefighters, other emergency response staff, 911 call center staff and trainees in high-risk settings
- K-12 and higher education teachers and staff, student teachers, childcare providers
After this phase, the county will move to the next group of people in the 1B group, which includes other essential workers and high-risk adults in congregate settings. The county estimates the move to this next phase will happen sometime in April.
How to register for a vaccine
Pima County is using its own website and registration system to have direct control over the website and be able to quickly fix any website crashes or other problems.
Other counties in Arizona are using a different site maintained by the Arizona Department of Health Services, do not use that one.
The county is also working to set up an in-person registration process so people who do not have internet access can still register for a vaccine, details about when and where that will happen are forthcoming.
The county will work with AHCCSS and care providers who work with people who are homebound so they can receive the vaccination at home, however the details on that process are still in the works, Cullen said.
Individuals who are 75 or older: This group is advised to register for vaccination at Banner-University Medical Center, Banner-Kino or Tucson Medical Center, so they can receive immediate medical care if they have an adverse reaction.
Go here to find the links to register at those sites online.
When registering at a Banner site, you will answer the screening questions on Banner's website and then be able to make an appointment, when they become available.
When registering at TMC or other non-Banner sites, you will answer the screening questions on the county's website and then you will receive a follow up email from TMC MyChart to complete your registration and schedule your appointment. Because of the high volume of registrations, it could take up to 2-3 days before you receive the MyChart email.
Individuals can get help registering at non-Banner sites over the phone by calling 520-222-0119. The hotline will be open through the holiday weekend including Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, Jan. 18 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Regular hours for the hotline will be Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The hotline will be staffed by librarians who speak English and Spanish and can assist with the registration process.
Childcare Workers: Employees in childcare centers and home-based child care providers who care for five or more children not part of their household can register online to make a vaccination appointment.
Vaccinations will happen at the University of Arizona site.
College and university educators and staff: Teachers, professors and staff who work in community colleges and universities can register online.
Vaccinations will happen at the University of Arizona site.
K-12 Educators and staff: Because of limited supplies, the county has developed a registration plan in partnership with area districts, private and charter schools who are asked to prioritize their employees, collect basic registration information and share that list with the county on a regular basis, Cullen says. Around 2,000 K-12 staffers will be vaccinated next week, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
Employees should keep an eye on their work email where they will receive a link to create an account and register for the vaccine. The county's website says "all public/private/parochial/charter K-12 school teachers and staff should work directly with their school administration." The site also says that school employees do not need to register on the county's site.
Questions from educators can be sent to EOCEducation@pima.gov.
Educators vaccinated at the site set up at the University of Arizona. The county estimates there are about 53,000 people who fall in this category.
Protective service employees: The county is using a similar process as the one used for educators for this group, where agencies will prioritize employees and forward that information to the county on a regular basis.
People in this category should first check with their employers before making an appointment online.
This group will receive their vaccines at the Tucson Convention Center.
What you'll need
Everyone will need an email account, that's where a link to make an vaccination appointment will be sent after registration. For those in the 75 and older category registering by phone, librarians staffing the hotline can help you set up an email account.
You will also need to present a photo ID at your vaccination appointment. This does not have to be an ID issued by the state of Arizona, it just has to have your name, date of birth and a photo.
Those in protective services/law enforcement, childcare, K-12 education and higher education will also need to bring a proof of employment like an employee ID, pay or pay stub to their appointment.