County and state spar over COVID-19 vaccine from FEMA

210,000 doses on the line

Fema vaccines to Pima County

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - When FEMA offered Pima County enough vaccine in a federal site to inoculate nearly 200,000 people, the county jumped at the chance.

But according to the rules, permission to do so had to run through the state.

The state said no, it doesn’t want federal site.

Pima County officials are at a loss as to why.

“We need to vaccinate as many people as fast as possible and this is an opportunity,” said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. “And that opportunity should not be passed up.”

The Pima County Board of Supervisors will consider its options at an emergency board meeting on Wednesday March 24, 2021.

It will consider a resolution asking the Biden Administration and FEMA to contract with the county specifically to bypass the state.

Whether that’s legal is a question that is yet to be determined.

The federal government already contracts with some private companies to administer the vaccine in drug stores and grocery stores.

When asked, the state health department sent an lengthy email saying running the sites is a state responsibility.

“Arizona, not the county, would need to provide a significant portion of the staffing and resources, would not have administrative or medical oversight of the site, and could not require the same efficiency and customer service provided at existing state sites that still have significant untapped capacity. While the county believes they could provide everything needed, the state holds the primary responsibility for ensuring the resource needs are met. The state is required to provide the resources if they cannot. This is concerning because we note that Pima County has already requested FEMA resources to staff its own currently operating sites, as it hasn’t been able to sufficiently staff them.”

But Pima County says that’s not true.

“The state would not have to provide any support, the county would provide all the support,” Huckelberry said. “And we’d get an additional 42,000 doses in a week.”

That would be on top of the 38,000 doses expected next week in the state distribution.

The FEMA doses would be used mostly on the South side in some of the zip codes hardest hit by the virus and where the vaccination rate is lagging, such as zip code 85706.

“Unfortunately, our mobile clinics can’t do more than a thousand a day,” he said. “Whereas the fixed walk in sites could be doing six thousand a day.”

The county would set up two sites for the federal distribution, one at the El Pueblo Center and the other at Kino Events Center. Both are on the South side.

In the resolution, the county will ask the Governor to reconsider the decision but according to the Arizona Department of Health it doesn’t appear likely.

The state’s email continues - “While we appreciate the opportunity to partner with FEMA on the development of new opportunities, the state does not need assistance in standing up additional fixed or mobile resources.”

Pima County has enlisted the help of the Arizona Congressional delegation to try to force the issue.

“In that resolution is a request for the governor to reconsider and if he does not reconsider, a request to the Biden Administration and the Department of Homeland Security as well as the acting Director of FEMA to establish a federal POD (points of distribution) in Pima County with a local government as a sponsor, Huckelberry said.

That sponsor would be Pima County.

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