Lindsey Medeiros

Lindsey Medeiros, an intensive care unit nurse at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix, was one of the first to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which will be distributed in phases.

COVID-19 vaccines—called “the light at the end of the tunnel” by Goodyear Human Resources Director Lyman Locket—have arrived in the West Valley.

Abrazo West Campus received its first shipment of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and started “Phase 1A” vaccinations Monday, Dec. 21.

According to Maricopa County Department of Public Health, in the first phase, “doses of the vaccine will be distributed to eligible healthcare personnel.”

At Goodyear Fire Department, “We are having people get signed up for vaccines,” said Fire Chief Paul Luizzi. 

In Avondale, “Fire/EMS personnel are the only city employees who are eligible for the phase 1A vaccinations,” said Pier Simeri, a city spokeswoman. She said Avondale police and some other city personnel are expected to be in the next vaccine phase.

The vaccine arrives just as COVID-19 cases are rising at places like Abrazo West.

“We have approached the high level mark we were at in the summer,” said Abrazo West CEO Christina Oh. 

Her staff was prepared for the increasing number of COVID-19 patients, she said.

“We’ve been through it once before. We definitely feel more at ease—but the impact of the pandemic is powerful,” Oh said. “We take our hats off to our staff every day.

“We have already implemented capacity plans that we developed even before the summer surge,” she added. “We’re implementing them again, very consistent with what other hospitals are doing.”

According to Maricopa County Department of Public Health, all three key benchmarks are showing “substantial” community spread of COVID-19.

For the most recent week of full data, Maricopa County had 579 cases per 100,000 people—more than five times greater than the 100 cases per 100,000 that is considered substantial spread. 

The rate of spread nearly doubled the week after Thanksgiving.

Even as county and state officials urge people to exercise extreme caution about holiday gatherings, Abrazo West and other POD’s are providing the first vaccinations to protect against COVID-19.

Maricopa County Public Health expects as many as 1 million people will be eligible for vaccinations in Phases 1B and 1C, with the Moderna—approved by the FDA for emergency use Dec. 18—vaccine joining Pfizer.

Oh and her chief operating officer, Noomi Hirsch, said they appreciate assistance by the Goodyear Police and Fire departments in helping with an aggressive vaccine rollout. Plans are for as many as 600 health care workers per day to get vaccinations at Abrazo West.

Six lanes are set up in an Abrazo West parking lot for the reservation-only shots.

“We are working very closely with the county on the registration process,” said Hirsch. “When health care workers sign up (for the vaccine), they will be filtered through the county and then invited to set up appointments.”

She noted that it’s not just any health care workers in the first batch: “The county is prioritizing—even within the health care workers—based on exposure to COVID-19 and working with COVID patients,” she said.

The plan is for Abrazo West to deliver first vaccine shots to its 1A group in 10 days. After a short break, the same group will return for the second dose of the two-stage vaccine.

The Abrazo West executives stress the vaccines are appointment only.

“If you drive in and you haven’t been authorized, you’re not able to receive the vaccine,” Hirsch said.

Those actually doing the vaccine shots come from a county pool. “It could be an Abrazo employee, it could be Valleywise or a county volunteer,” Hirsch said.

The news of the vaccine came at a great time, with Abrazo West staff struggling to keep up the pace of increasing COVID-19 patients.

“I think everyone realized there’s hope on the horizon,” Oh said.

“This is the second surge, so we feel more prepared—but it’s hard to see someone struggling with COVID and the teams are tired.

“We’re excited that hopefully this vaccine effort will take hold and next year we’re looking at a different holiday.”

At another POD site last week, Lindsey Medeiros, an intensive care unit nurse at Banner – University Medical Center, was one of the first to get the vaccine. 

“I work in the ICU. I see the sickest of the sick. I can’t even describe how hard it’s been for our patients, our doctors, our nurses. 

“And this is finally like the sun coming up.”

While it is great to see health care workers getting protection, Oh stressed vaccines will not make a positive impact in the community for months. 

“People need to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently,” Oh said.

“The message is even more important as we head into the Christmas week.”

Indeed, Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ released a video Dec. 18 to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine and share the latest information on the virus in Arizona

She noted Arizona contact tracers are reflecting similar situations to a recent New York study, which found 3 out of 4 COVID-19 cases were traced to small household and social events.

“We have seen much the same thing at ADHS,” Christ said. “Our 600 contact traces point out again and again where people socialize without taking the precautions required in public events.”

Christ said when she is involved directly in testing, “when a test comes back positive, in almost every case I’ve heard the person didn’t take precautions in a social setting.”

Christ was concerned about the upcoming holidays, after the most recent one.

“Since Thanksgiving, when many gathered with loved ones and friends, we’ve seen the COVID-19 metrics worsen,” she said.

“… Someone who is required to wear masks while shopping for groceries may then invite people over for a dinner where people don’t wear masks or socially distance,” Christ added.

“These create situations where this very contagious virus can spread.”

She urged everyone to “assess the risk of hosting or attending a holiday gathering. 

“If weather permits, consider hosting your gathering outdoors. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation increase the chance of spread.”

And, she said, try to keep them short: “Gatherings that last longer post a higher risk.”

She cautioned people not to let their guards down after the good news on vaccinations beginning.

Echoing Oh’s caution, Christ noted, “it will be a number of months before vaccines are available to all, so we must continue to do all that we can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”