Drs. Priya Radhakrishnan

Drs. Priya Radhakrishnan, right, and Zac Whitaker prepare COVID-19 vaccines for use at Granite Reef Senior Center.

While most of the focus on the COVID vaccine roll-out has been on the state and county, cities and healthcare operators are also playing a critical role in the vaccination effort.

Scottsdale-based HonorHealth, which runs one of the five vaccine distribution points under Maricopa County, had been preparing for the roll-out since August and worked closely with local officials.

The Pfizer vaccine first received emergency use authorization from the FDA on Dec. 11 and HonorHealth began vaccinating patients less than a week later on Dec. 17, said Michelle Pabis, vice president of government and community affairs. 

Pabis said city leaders – including City Manager Jim Thompson and Fire Chief Tom Shannon – played critical roles in making that effort a success.

“It has really been a partnership with the city of Scottsdale that we are so appreciative of,” she said.

The city even purchased two freezers to supplement others purchased by HonorHealth for vaccine storage. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures of between -112 and -76 degrees Fahrenheit.

The city spent $21,560 from its allocation of federal pandemic-relief funds on the two freezers, which are now in use at Northeast Valley Point of Distribution.

“Purchasing the freezers helped ensure that HonorHealth had the ability to store the vaccine…Scottsdale emergency management and fire department staff have been hard at work since well before the vaccine first arrived in Arizona to help the Maricopa County point of distribution system prepare to vaccinate those who are most at risk for regular COVID contact,” city spokesman Kelly Corsette said.

Scottsdale staff continues to support the operations at the Northeast Valley distribution site, he added. 

The city and HonorHealth also collaborated to conduct outreach and vaccinate elderly Scottsdale residents.

That demographic presented unique challenges because many elderly people could have trouble navigating the online registration systems used by most patients, Pabis said.

To address those issues, HonorHealth used its own internal online system to register patients and set up a phone bank staffed by volunteers to help seniors register to receive a vaccine.

Staff with Scottsdale’s Human Services Department was also instrumental in reaching the city’s elderly population, Pabis said, noting that “who have on-the-ground staff who work regularly with these populations, they can help them schedule or identify what those challenges are.” 

Many of those residents were able to get shots at HonorHealth’s drive-up clinic in Northwest Phoenix.

For those that were unable to visit the drive-up clinic, the city and HonorHealth set up a vaccine event at the Granite Reef Senior Center on Feb. 10 with transpiration provided by Scottsdale Fire Department and city staff.

In total, 63 seniors over 75 were vaccinated.

The Granite Reef event was a game changer for seniors like Scottsdale resident Lois Hill, who received a shot alongside her husband.

“They’re doing a great job, and I am very happy that they’re doing this,” Hill said.

Like many older seniors, she said she faced barriers to reaching other vaccination sites.

“We were getting very concerned; we didn’t even know how we were going to get (there),” Hill said.

Hill and the other residents who received vaccines from HonorHealth also do not have to worry about securing a follow-up reservation for a second dose. All participants were automatically signed up to get one in three weeks at the senior center, Pabis said.

The drive at Granite Reef occurred just days before Scottsdale Unified teachers received their second dose through a similar partnership with HonorHealth.

The healthcare network partnered with four school districts and charters in and around Scottsdale to vaccinate teachers and staff.

According to Pabis, shots were already given to 2,100 SUSD teachers and staff along with 2,800 individuals with Paradise Valley Unified School District and 500 individuals with Cave Creek Unified. 

HonorHealth has also provided shots to Scottsdale Police employees and 10 area fire departments, including Scottsdale Fire.

As of Feb. 9, HonorHealth had administered around 41,000 total doses to over 20,000 individuals, Pabis said.