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Yuma senior travels 400 miles for a chance to get a COVID-19 vaccine

Leonora Ochoa
Posted at 7:09 PM, Jan 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 21:10:27-05

YUMA, AZ — “I was told to get on the internet. I would then search for four, three hours and it would say they don’t know when there’s going to be an appointment available that everything is full,” stated Leonora Ochoa.

Ochoa is 85 years old; she says she has been living in Yuma County for 60 years. She says the struggle to find a spot for the vaccine is too much and the website sometimes doesn’t work. So, she wonders, why are COVID-19 vaccines not reaching Yuma county?

The county is a hotspot for the virus, it has the highest infection rate in the state, they only have one hospital, and their prison has had a large COVID-19 outbreak.

Ochoa’s age puts her at higher risk to COVID-19, so, when she realized the next available appointment in Yuma was until April or May, she decided it was time to look for other options.

“It’s not fair. I don’t know how others are going to be able to wait that long or if they had any help to get the vaccine in Yuma,” said Ochoa.

With her son’s help, Ochoa made it to the vaccination site at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, without an appointment.

“It’s open 24 hours! how is that possible? How come no one told me that before?” expressed Ochoa.

It took her 30 minutes to get her vaccine. She said she immediately felt some sort of freedom.

“It’s going to help me to not worry as much.”

But she says she knows she’s lucky, not every senior in Yuma has someone willing to drive them that far. The fact is 20% of Yuma’s population is 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census.

Why are rural areas not taken care of?

“We’ve only had 7,400 doses sent to Yuma county. We’re not meeting the needs. We have a large elderly population, they qualify because they’re over 65, 75, 85, yet they’re not getting the vaccine that they need,” stated Charlene Fernandez, Arizona State Representative.

Fernandez represents Yuma, she says they have sent various letters to Dr. Cara Christ, the director of AZDHS, and to Governor Doug Ducey without seeing any changes to the vaccine distribution.

So, they’re now going somewhere else for a solution.

“Senator Atondo and I sent a letter, we just did it Friday night, to the Biden administration. We sent it to the new Health and Human Service cabinet secretary yet to be confirmed asking him to put us as a priority as soon as he’s inaugurated, and he’s confirmed.”

Fernandez worries about the elderly and farmworkers. Yuma County has a large population of agricultural workers.

“There’s over 40,000 of them, 40,000 people.”

She says Arizona’s economy depends in part on Yuma's agricultural workers.

“To be exact, it is $3.2 Billion, the state budget is $9.2 Billion. We’re a third of the economy in the state of Arizona. We’re the leafy green capital of the world meaning that if you’re having salad anywhere almost all the vegetables in that salad came from Yuma County.”

Left Behind

Fernandez says Yuma County farmworkers and their elderly population have been left behind.

“When we see that you can get your vaccine quicker in Maricopa county, yes we feel left out.”

Meanwhile, healthcare workers in Yuma County ask the state government to please consider sending more vaccines to their communities.

“We have a waiting list of over 3,000 people that are in phase 1A and we need to start phase 1B,” stated Amanda Aguirre, Director of the Border Health Medical Center in Somerton, Arizona.

Aguirre says the only solution is to declare a State of Emergency in Yuma County.

“We’re exhausted, our healthcare system is broken, it’s so fragile right now that I don’t know how we can sustain it and keep up with what we’re going through.”