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N4T Investigators: Most vulnerable hit roadblocks registering for COVID-19 vaccines

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TUCSON (KVOA) - Time continues to tick for many people waiting to get their COVID-19 vaccine. As the State of Arizona works to get the supply to meet the demand, some of the most vulnerable are left frustrated trying to make their appointment.  

The state has been seeing incredible interest in the vaccine, appointments filled up through the month of January into February, but many people tell us they were having trouble even getting through to try and make an appointment.  

“I didn’t get an appointment and as you know they were all gone in two hours,” said Arlene Bliven, an 83-year-old woman with asthma. 

Naturally, she is worried about COVID-19 and hopes a vaccine could make her less at risk. Her “failed” attempt at making an appointment, she said was full of confusion.   

“It looked like the registration went through okay except I never received anything and it sounded like I would receive something in my email but I never received anything," Bliven said. "I really don’t know if I messed up it didn’t say it didn’t send me an appointment but didn’t say I missed anything." 

On Friday morning, she tried a phone number the Pima County Health Department set up to help the elderly make appointments. But she said, things just got more frustrating.  

“There wasn’t anything, half the time it didn’t even ring,” Bliven said. 

The N4T Investigators called the number several times when it was supposed to be operational and each time heard a “line busy” tone.

Mike Cafferata, in his 70’s, also tried the phone number repeatedly without any luck. 
 

“You call them and it’s like talking into a well,” Cafferata said. 

Mike said he registered with Pima County online, never heard anything back, when the phone number didn’t work he tried calling the County directly. He said after a 70-minute wait, he was able to register himself again. However, he has never heard anything back once again.  

“It’s been over a week and we haven’t heard anything from them. We just weren’t getting answers out of them nobody had any way of telling you what the next step was,” Cafferata said.  

During a weekly press conference last week, Arizona Department of Health Director Cara Christ said, “We just don’t have enough to meet the demand for what we want to do.”  

Christ said one of the main issues right now is getting the supply to meet the demand. As of last week. Arizona was allocated just over 800,000 doses of vaccine, around 105,000 of those for Pima County.

The state is now allowing people 65 and older to get a vaccine, but the final decision comes from the counties based on resources.

Christ said is trying to make sure no vaccines go to waste while getting to those who need them most. 

 
“We are looking at where vaccine is being used most efficiently, bringing it to areas that are using it more efficiently, so that we can make sure that as many Arizonans are getting vaccinated as possible and that vaccine is not just sitting in freezers,” she said.  

She admits people have been having issues with the online registration and said it’s being worked on.  

“We are working with Google on how to make the product better," Christ said. "They are the developers, so yes, it has been a work in progress we continue to improve."

What she believes will help speed up vaccinations is the upwards of 800 pharmacies statewide that will soon step in to help administer vaccines. However, for people like Arlene and Mike, every day they have to wait is another day they feel at risk.  

“I thought FEMA or the Army, why didn’t they [the state] make some organized federal effort to set up vaccine centers and get this done quickly and efficiently,” Cafferata said. 

Christ said the pharmacy effort should speed up once Walgreens and CVS join in, they have been occupied handling long-term care facilities.   

Pima County has moved away from the phone number that wasn’t working and is now using 520-222-0119 to help the elderly set up appointments offline.  

If you have a story you’d like us to investigate email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444 

Chorus Nylander

Chorus Nylander is the Chief Investigative Reporter for News 4 Tucson. He is focused on giving the voiceless a voice and holding the powerful accountable.

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