Gila County gets first Covid-19 vaccines

David Sowders/Arizona Silver Belt Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center medical assistant Jessica Classay gets her Covid-19 vaccine from graduate nurse Areana Peterson on Monday morning.

The coronavirus vaccine has come to Gila County, and the first vaccinations in a phased rollout started this week.

Two Covid-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, have been authorized by the FDA for emergency use. Last Tuesday, Dec. 22, the Gila County Health Department received its first allotment – 1,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine. This Monday through Wednesday, healthcare workers at Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center got their Covid-19 shots as part of a phased vaccine rollout.

CVRMC nurse Megan Martinez, who is also an Eastern Arizona College instructor, said one vial of the Moderna vaccine contains 10 doses and can vaccinate at least 10 people.

Due to limited supply, and following Centers for Disease Control strategy, the first phase of Gila County’s vaccination efforts will focus on higher-risk populations. Phase 1A will prioritize frontline healthcare workers, EMS workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. Phase 1B will offer the vaccine to teachers and childcare workers, first responders, essential workers and adults in congregate settings. In Phase 1C, people 65 and over as well as adults with high-risk medical conditions will be offered the vaccine.

In a Dec. 22 press release, Gila County Health & Emergency Management said Phase 1 was expected to be complete by mid-spring 2021. Following that, Phase 2 will start offering Covid-19 vaccines to the general public; the vaccine will become more widely accessible in Phase 3.

“As supplies increase in the coming months, the vaccine will become more available to the general population,” said Jacob Albin, director of pharmacy services at CVRMC. “We are working closely with county health officials and local healthcare providers to coordinate the logistics and distribution of the vaccines to the community.”

The San Carlos Apache Nation is receiving its own vaccine allotments separately from the State of Arizona and Gila County, through Indian Health Services, a federal agency.

Gila County will be receiving more allotments of the Moderna vaccine in the coming months, along with the Pfizer vaccine. Health & Emergency Management Director Michael O’Driscoll said the first Pfizer vaccine doses were projected to arrive in early to mid-January. Vaccines are being sent directly to facilities approved to receive and dispense them, including regional hospitals.

Albin explained how the two authorized vaccines work. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses for effective immunization, as would all other Covid vaccines being developed except for Johnson & Johnson’s (it would require one dose). Pfizer’s second dose is required 21 days after the first, and Moderna’s 28 days after the first.

Both are mRNA-based vaccines, taking advantage of the way cells make proteins in order to trigger an immune response and build immunity to Covid-19. The mRNA (messenger RNA) delivers instructions for a cell to create a “spike protein,” which helps develop antibodies to the virus. After its work is done, the mRNA is broken down and removed from cells. “The mRNA strand does not in any way affect genetic material,” said Albin.

“Other vaccines under development use weakened or inactivated versions or components of the Covid-19 virus to stimulate the body’s immune response to create antibodies,” he added. “None of the vaccines in development contain live virus and therefore cannot cause a person to become infected.”

Albin said the most common side effects seen in clinical trials were injection site reactions, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills and fever. “Most people do not have serious problems after being vaccinated; however, your arm may be sore, red or warm to the touch. These symptoms usually go away on their own within a week.

“These side effects are a sign that your immune system is doing exactly what it is supposed to do; working and building up protection to disease.”

The launch of the coronavirus vaccine has been accelerated by Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership initiated by the U.S. government; development, testing and approval were complete in approximately nine months. “While this has been completed in record time, the vaccines were subjected to the same rigorous testing and evaluation that any FDA-approved medication or treatment would be required to complete,” Albin said. “The results of clinical trials for Moderna and Pfizer have shown both vaccines to be safe and effective at preventing Covid-19 infection.”

Additional information will be posted and periodically updated on the Gila County Health & Emergency Management and Gila County Facebook pages as well as at


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