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AARP AZ Sent Letter to AZDHS Director Herrington and a Response Was Received

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AARP AZ sent a letter to AZDHS Director Don Herrington in regards to booster vaccinations and we received a prompt response from Mr. Herrington.

September 14, 2021

Dear Director Don Herrington,

I am writing on behalf of nearly 900,000 members in Arizona and all 50-plus Arizonans about the urgent need to begin planning now for the possibility of booster vaccinations to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. As you consider the possibility of offering booster shots, we urge you to develop a comprehensive roll-out plan that communicates clear information to the public and prioritizes older Americans, especially those who are homebound or living in congregate settings.

In Arizona, we urgently need to increase the initial vaccination rate, which is insufficient to protect Arizonans from the latest surges in infection rates. At the same time, we need to quickly build a strong system to deliver booster shots to those who have already been vaccinated.

The initial vaccine rollout was not without its challenges. Many older Arizonans could not access or navigate the online system, called into poorly-staffed hotlines, and were left confused and frustrated. Still others who were homebound were left for weeks without an option to get vaccinated. These problems cannot be repeated. We believe now is the time to revisit what worked well with the initial rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in Arizona and what did not work well. We urge you to develop a comprehensive state plan for booster shots that builds on identified best practices. Arizona must continue to be vigilant as the coronavirus landscape continues to shift and be ready to take action to protect our most vulnerable residents.

Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 95 percent of the deaths from COVID-19 have been among people 50 and older. The data clearly show that the older someone is, the greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. AARP Arizona urges you to prioritize any future booster rollout to the general public based on the order of delivery of the initial vaccinations. This must include prioritizing people 50 and older, especially those living in congregate settings.

As was the case during the initial rollout of the vaccines, we anticipate confusion among the public on where to go to get a booster shot, and difficulty signing up for appointments. AARP heard from hundreds of people who were extremely frustrated by the lack of clear information and difficulty accessing vaccine appointments. The state must do better as booster shots are distributed. We recommend that Arizona include a public education campaign as part of this booster vaccine plan that provides clear information about how people who do not have internet access or cannot navigate an online system can make a vaccine appointment through a call center or other means. We look forward to supporting your efforts to reach as many people as possible.

For those individuals most at risk, such as people living in nursing homes or other congregate facilities, homebound individuals, and other hard-to-reach populations, we urge the state to develop specific plans to ensure boosters are delivered quickly and effectively. The CDC has provided guidance1 on vaccinating homebound individuals and their caregivers, and federal funding may be available from FEMA and the American Rescue Plan Act to facilitate vaccinations for homebound individuals. This funding could be used to establish or improve systems to safely transport homebound people to vaccination sites or to bring the vaccine, including boosters, to the person's home.

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/homebound.html

Finally, we strongly urge you to ensure that the state's vaccination-related data, including booster shots, are publicly available, easily accessible, and include enough granularity to allow for the identification of populations that are still struggling to access COVID-19 vaccines. The availability of such data will help ensure that no population is overlooked.

By working together, we can ensure that any Arizonan who wants to be vaccinated has that opportunity. As you update your outreach plans, and as more information is available about how people can sign up for booster vaccines, you can count on AARP Arizona to share that information broadly. Please contact me at dkennedy@,aarp.org or Brendon Blake at bblake@,aarp.org if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

Dana Marie Kennedy

AARP Arizona State Director


Response from AZDHS Director Don Herrington

Dear Ms. Kennedy:

Thank you for your commitment to increasing Arizona’s COVID-19 vaccination rate and AARP’s willingness to share information about vaccine access with Arizonans. The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) continues to monitor the evolving discussions about vaccine boosters at the federal level and stands ready to distribute information to the Arizona public regarding booster dose recommendations once they become available.

In anticipation of COVID-19 booster doses being recommended, ADHS has been working with federal and local public health partners, local retail pharmacies, and local healthcare providers to ensure an adequate network for vaccination exists throughout the state to serve populations recommended to receive a booster dose. This includes reviewing data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding long-term care facility readiness to support their residents in being vaccinated and direct outreach to Arizona long-term care facilities reporting a need for assistance to identify ways ADHS can help.

At this time, ADHS plans to adhere to federal recommendations for booster doses, including eligible populations and timing of doses. The existing healthcare network in Arizona includes over 1,000 COVID-19 vaccinators located throughout the state, including hundreds of retail pharmacies, who are poised to offer booster doses to eligible Arizonans. Our call center, accessed through 1-844-542-8201 (option 8), stands ready to provide information to individuals about where to access vaccinations and how to obtain transportation to a vaccine provider, if needed. Those who are AHCCCS members contact their health plan to coordinate transportation or call 1-855-345-6432 to reach the transportation line. ADHS will provide this information, along with additional details, when official federal vaccination recommendations are finalized.

We would greatly appreciate AARP’s support in distributing future messaging ADHS releases about booster doses and look forward to working with you to continue to protect Arizonans from COVID-19 At azdhs.gov/COVID19, we have a large assortment of social media collateral, informational posters ready for printing, guidance for high-risk individuals, and more for partner agencies to share with their stakeholders. We will be adding booster information in short order. On request, we can put your brand on these materials. Feel free to reach out to Steve Elliott, our communications director, with your messaging ideas.

For more information on Covid-19 Boosters - https://azdhs.gov/covid19/documents/vaccines/COVID-19-vaccine-boosters.pdf

Sincerely,

Don Herrington
Interim Director


Thank you Director Herrington. We look forward to providing more information with our members.

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