PHOENIX — As of this writing, seven percent, or 518,125 Arizonans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. One percent, or 79,026 Arizonans have received both doses.
This is not an unexpected disparity. Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines require two doses for the immunity benefits to fully develop. While the dosage timing is slightly different for both vaccines (21 days for Pfizer and 28 days for Moderna), most of the county health departments across the state were only administering the vaccine to people that qualified for phase 1a, which is defined as “Healthcare Workers & Healthcare Support Occupations, Emergency Medical Service Workers, Long-Term Care Facility Staff & Residents.” A very small portion of Arizona’s population.
As counties expand vaccine administration to larger and larger population categories, there is a growing concern that some Arizonans will only receive the first dose. The concern is that someone with partial immunity may contribute to the spread of a COVID-19 variant that would be more resistant to the vaccine.
The word variant is starting to show up more often alongside COVID-19. Variants to COVID-19 are numerous, but there are a few that have proven to be more prominent in different parts of the world and could have an impact on COVID-19 in Arizona should one of them start to appear.
The most widely known is the UK variant (B117). It has been documented to increase the transmission of COVID-19 by a range of forty to sixty percent more than other mutations. While the CDC does track this variant, it has not been observed in Arizona yet. The South African variant has proven to reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. The most problematic variant documented may be the Brazilian variant known as P1, which has shown to both increase transmission as well as escape antibody response. The South African variant has no known cases in the US while the Brazilian variant has one.
Doctor Joshua LaBaer at ASU Biodesign Institute expressed this concern on a press call today on the state of COVID-19 in Arizona. “If people get partially immunized, but not fully immunized, then there is a risk to develop variants that are resistant to the vaccine,” said Dr. LaBaer.
“Many of you who have taken antibiotics for one infection or another, one advice doctors always give is to take the full course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better. The reason we tell people to take the full course of antibiotics is that you want to kill all of the bacteria because if you don’t do that, you run the risk of developing bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic. Well, the same is sort of true with vaccines.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services announced today that they will begin scheduling second dose appointments at state sites during first dose appointments, according to a press release.