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Arizona's U.S. Senators Push For Increased COVID-19 Vaccine Supply

AP, file

Supplies of COVID-19 vaccines are expected to increase nationwide in the coming weeks following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a third treatment. It’s welcome news for health officials in Arizona who’ve expanded immunizations. But because of limited supplies, less than 10% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly about efforts to increase shipments and how to make vaccine distribution fair across all communities in the state.

Ryan Heinsius: What efforts are being made at the federal level to increase shipments to the state?

Sen. Mark Kelly: So, in response to Gov. Ducey’s request Sen. Sinema and I sent a letter to the White House requesting another 300,000 doses of the vaccine on top of what we’re already allotted based on our population. So we made that request. Our allotment of doses has gone up just because the overall supply is going up, but that’s based on our population. So we’re still hopeful and we’re going to work with the administration to make sure we can get more. We need to get these vaccines into people’s arms. It’s been a challenge, my sense is it’s getting better, but we have to continue to improve.

RH: The number of Arizonans is steadily rising but, still, only a small percentage of the population has been fully vaccinated. Is it ultimately a supply issue?

MK: Yeah, we’re still struggling to feed that end of the pipe with enough doses. But I’ve talked to seniors especially across the state that are having challenges getting signed up for appointments. You know, the system is not working well for a lot of folks across the state, appointments get canceled. We’ve got a long way to go until we get enough folks vaccinated till we get to herd immunity.

RH: The recent extreme weather in Texas and other parts of the country delayed vaccine shipments to all of Arizona including Coconino County here causing appointment cancellations. Is there a better way to do this? Is there a better way to distribute vaccines?

MK: Hey, I think the way to do this more effectively is to pass the next COVID-19 relief package that has the resources available to increase the supply and improve the distribution system. So we’ve got to do that. That is what is going to help get vaccines especially out to rural communities and get them in people’s arms. We ultimately are going to need a bigger army of people to do this work. And the lack of resources, it slows down the vaccine distribution. We do have to continue to improve this process.

RH: Are you worried about vaccine inequities? What can ultimately be done to verify that all people regardless of socioeconomic status or race have access when they’re eligible for a vaccine?

MK: It has been an issue across the country. It’s been an issue in Arizona. There’s been times here where the supply of vaccines for rural communities has been reduced in favor or other locations in our state. Border communities are having a hard time getting the number of doses they need and they have the added issue of having folks that are coming across the border, not always getting tested. We have to improve that process as well. So yeah, there are inequities in the system and they need to be fixed.

RH: Is that something you can legislate?

MK: In some cases I think we can. Or if we can’t legislate we do it by working with the administration to try to distribute the vaccine in an equitable way. I spoke to a reverend, a pastor in Mesa and he was talking about the challenges that his constituents are facing in getting vaccines, especially his seniors. And this was an African American church. But despite living in Mesa it was still too far of a trip for them to go to the State Farm center, as an example, to get vaccinated. We need to have more distribution centers across the state. We need to make sure we get vaccines to rural areas, to tribal communities. And we need to try to continue to encourage, so anybody listening today, if you have any doubt about whether or not to get this vaccine, you need to get it. It’s safe and it’s effective, it’s been proven effective, and it’s been proven now with millions of Americans having taken this, it is a safe vaccine. And this is the only thing that is going to help us beat this virus.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a frequent contributor to NPR.
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