PHOENIX — In the beginning, Arizona was among the leaders in getting people vaccinated. But once those 65 and older got their COVID shots, the rate of vaccinations began to slow. Today more than 50% of Arizonans are fully vaccinated. 60% have at least one shot.
Those numbers have been holding steady for months and health officials say it's not good enough.
"I see the frustration every day in our colleagues on this." Dr. Richard Carmona has held many titles in his life, battlefield medic, former U.S. surgeon general, and now senior adviser on public health emergency preparedness for Governor Ducey.
Dr. Carmona was appointed by Governor Ducey last month to lead the state's COVID-19 response. He replaced Arizona Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ, who resigned to take a position in the private sector.
Carmona’s mission: get Arizonans vaccinated.
“We have more cases accumulating. I know that people are dying,” Dr. Carmona said. “I met with Banner and the chief medical officers around the state yesterday. And the single most important thing they’re telling me, more people are getting sick. We don’t have enough beds, we don’t have enough staff.”
Dr. Carmona says his first order of business is to target the approximately 30% of Arizona’s population who is eligible to get the vaccine. But so far has refused to do it.
"In looking at that vaccine-hesitant group, there are those who are just non-believers and make decisions based on bad social media, bad information. But there are those who legitimately have concerns they don't understand," Dr. Carmona said.
Governor Ducey supports people getting vaccinated. But his critics argued, aside from encouraging them to get a shot, he's allowed politics to dictate his COVID strategy.
Dr. Carmona says he is going to ignore the politics and deals solely with the public's health. And on that, He seems to have found common ground with the governor.
Before he took on his new role he told the governor, "for me to help you I would humbly ask you, are you willing to stand public with me and urge people to get vaccinated? Willing to use the appropriate mitigation strategies, and he said yes," Dr. Carmona said.
Dr. Carmona says the Department of Health Services will soon begin a media campaign targeting those who are either cynical or suspicious of vaccines, encouraging them to do what's right for themselves and for their communities.