In most parts of the United States, getting a coronavirus vaccine can feel like trying to win the lottery. People scour the internet for appointments under complex eligibility standards that vary from state to state, and even county to county.
In Indiana and Kentucky, anyone over 60 can get vaccinated, but you have to be 65 or 70 almost everywhere else. About 18 states are offering shots to grocery workers, and 32 are vaccinating teachers.
Then there is Gila County, Ariz., where any resident over 18 can walk into a clinic without an appointment and get a vaccine.
“The whole process is incredibly easy,” said Frank Struck, 24, an electrician and maintenance worker who got inoculated at a hospital in Globe, a town in the county, about 90 miles east of Phoenix. “No bureaucracy, no crazy lines — you just go in, get the shot and come out with peace of mind.”
Gila County started off with a set of qualifying standards as well. But it has been so successful at vaccinating its residents that it is now one of the first places in the United States to open eligibility to the general population.
During a pandemic that has claimed the lives of at least 209 county residents, many people in the county of 54,000 people have welcomed the broader availability of the vaccines, a boon that follows a harrowing surge in hospitalizations around the start of the year. The expanded vaccination campaign has coincided over the past two weeks with a 52 percent plunge in new cases.
Health officials and elected leaders warn that big challenges persist in Gila County, in part because, in a county where anybody can get the vaccine, not everybody wants it.
About 28 percent of county residents have received at least one dose so far, compared with the nationwide level of 14 percent, according to local health officials. Rhonda Mason, the chief nursing officer at the hospital in Globe, said the challenge ahead was to overcome misinformation and skepticism.