Over 600 city employees have received vaccinations - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Over 600 city employees have received vaccinations

February 11th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Over 600 city employees have received vaccinations

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

At least 650 Chandler city employees – mostly firefighters and police officers – have received their COVID-19 vaccine over the last month as thousands of eligible residents.

First-responders, teachers, and healthcare workers have spent the last few weeks attempting to get vaccinated at one the Valley’s few distribution centers and a large section of Chandler’s public workforce has managed to gain access to a vaccine in various ways.

Some have waited in line outside Chandler-Gilbert Community College where volunteers have been administering vaccines around the clock, while others have gotten one of the vaccines that’s been distributed directly to the city. 

By the end of January, the city had used up its allotment of vaccines from the Maricopa County Public Health Department that are reserved for firefighters and police officers.

“That’s it, we have no more vaccines,” said Fire Chief Tom Dwiggins, adding the vast majority of the city’s 650 vaccinated employees work in public safety.

About 700 of the city’s 1,600 workers are public safety employees, suggesting Chandler could be close to having most of its eligible personnel vaccinated.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how many employees have received the vaccination thus far, Dwiggins said, because the city doesn’t demand workers provide any documentation.

The city is hoping more staffers can get vaccinated in the coming weeks as Arizona attempts to boost its supply of vaccines and ramp up distribution.

The state is getting up to 169,000 vaccines each week, Dwiggins added, so Chandler will have to wait and see how the county will be distributing doses and whether more can be allotted for city personnel.   

Once public safety employees became eligible for vaccination last month, the city asked the county to send as many vaccines as possible for an in-house clinic the Fire Department quickly set up for city workers.

“When they give you that vaccine, you go get it and you bring it here to Chandler as fast you can,” Dwiggins said.

Dwiggins had his staff undergo special training for administering, storing and tracking the COVID-19 vaccines before spending the last couple weeks dispensing the shots.

More than 300,000 residents throughout Maricopa County have been vaccinated during the first phase of Arizona’s vaccine distribution plan, which prioritizes elderly populations and essential workers – mainly educators and first responders.

As the state progresses through the next phase of its rollout plan – which targets adults with high-risk medical conditions – Dwiggins said his department will be trying to gather doses for city employees who fit that category.

The city also is assisting Chandler residents in figuring out how and where they can potentially get vaccinated by fielding phone calls and conducting community outreach.

If a resident can’t book an appointment at the Chandler-Gilbert Community College site, then they may be directed to press their luck at a local pharmacy or one of the state-run distribution hubs in Glendale or Phoenix.

More distribution sites are popping up across the Valley, the fire chief said, although Arizona’s vaccine supply is still limited and constrained by a high demand.

How many Chandler residents have already been vaccinated is unknown because those numbers are difficult to track and are not recorded by local jurisdictions.

Though the state is recording the personal information of every vaccine recipient, those records have not been disclosed. 

Dwiggins said he’s been told the state is in the midst of trying to create an online dashboard that would display how many residents in each ZIP code have been vaccinated.

Chandler’s ZIP codes have recorded more than 28,000 cases of residents testing positive for COVID-19 over the last year, according to public health data. At least 130 Chandler cases have involved city firefighters or police officers.

One case tragically turned fatal in January after Officer Tyler Britt succumbed to COVID-19 a couple weeks after he contracted the virus.   

Despite the fact most public safety employees have been vaccinated, Dwiggins said he will not ease health guidelines and protocols that his department has had in place since the pandemic began.

Firefighters are still expected to continue wearing face masks and practice social distancing, he said, and will do so until instructed otherwise.

Arizona is still in the middle of the pandemic, Dwiggins added, and residents must patiently wait for the vaccines to show their effect.

“This is the solution to a very long problem,” he said. “We are in that last stage. We still have to be resilient.”