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Mass Vaccinations Of Health Care Workers Begin In Arizona

Drive-through events are underway in Arizona to vaccinate thousands of health care workers against the coronavirus. Two vaccination sites in Maricopa County opened Thursday. Three more are set to open Monday.

Drive-through events are also beginning this week in Pima County. Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday that he expects all of Arizona's 15 counties will be administering vaccines by next week. 

The large-scale vaccination events  follow a small ceremony at the Arizona State Public Health Laboratory on Wednesday night where nine health care workers and the director of Arizona's Department of Public Health received shots. 

The first shot Thursday morning at the drive-through event at the Arizona State Fairgrounds went to Emily Beck, an ICU nurse who had just finished an overnight shift working with COVID-19 patients. Dr. Marjorie Bessel, chief clinical officer of Banner Health, administered the shot.

“Today is a great day," Bessel said. "We’ve been aware of this virus and working on our plan here at Banner since January of this year, and vaccine truly marks the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic.”

Banner Health, which is managing the fairgrounds vaccination site, reports about 160 people will be vaccinated Thursday, but the site will eventually have the capacity to vaccinate about 1,000 people per day.  

The state and county  have been preparing for months to run the mass vaccination events. 

"It's one of these things we plan for but we never hope we have to execute and go through it," said Marcy Flanagan, executive director of Maricopa County Public Health. "It's hopefully just a once in a lifetime experience, but I'm excited to be a part of it and that we're really at that phase of hope." 

In addition to health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities are also a priority group for the earliest available doses of vaccines. In Arizona, those populations will have access to vaccines through a collaboration program between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and pharmacies.

An estimated 123,000 people in Maricopa County are eligible to be vaccinated in phase 1A of the state's  vaccine distribution plan. As of Wednesday, the county  reported about 27,000 people had signed up. 

Public health officials expect it will still be several months before vaccines are available to the broader population. As COVID-19 continues to spread out of control in Arizona, health experts say social distancing practices are still critical. Arizona has reported more than 435,000 total COVID-19 cases and more than 7,600 deaths as of Thursday. 

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.