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State’s oldest residents elevated on list for first COVID-19 immunizations

World War II veteran John Mohun, 94, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Veterans Affairs agency in Phoenix on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2020. The VA began administering vaccinations to staff and veterans in Phoenix, starting with those at the VA health care system's nursing home and are voluntary for both staff and veterans. They will be offered next to staff of the emergency department and intensive care unit of the VA's Phoenix medical center, spokeswoman Cindy Dorfner said. (Dexter Marquez/Veterans Affairs via AP)

World War II veteran John Mohun, 94, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Veterans Affairs agency in Phoenix on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2020. The VA began administering vaccinations to staff and veterans in Phoenix, starting with those at the VA health care system’s nursing home and are voluntary for both staff and veterans. They will be offered next to staff of the emergency department and intensive care unit of the VA’s Phoenix medical center, spokeswoman Cindy Dorfner said. (Dexter Marquez/Veterans Affairs via AP)

Arizona’s oldest residents are going to be moved up on the list of who gets the first COVID-19 immunizations.

The move by Gov. Doug Ducey and the Department of Health Services comes a week after the an advisory panel of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those 75 and older should be moved into the second tier of those getting the vaccine. That puts them behind only health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Ducey, in a prepared statement, said the move is justified.

“One of Arizona’s top priorities since the start of the pandemic has been to protect our most vulnerable,” he said.

That assessment is backed by CDC data.

As of Dec. 20, when the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices made the recommendation, the cumulative COVID-19-associated hospitalization rate was 1,211 for every 100,000 individuals 75 and older. By contrast, the same figure for those age 65 to 74 was just 642.

Put another way, the CDC says individuals 75 and older make up 8% of the population but have 25% of hospitalizations. They also have the highest death rate of any age group.

And the agency says that, compared with individuals age 35 through 54, those in the 65-74 age group are eight times more likely to die. Take that out to those 75 and older and the risk of death is more than 30 times higher.

The CDC says this is about more than saving lives. The agency figures that reducing the number of elderly people who have to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 “can help ease the burden on strained health care systems.”

Until now, those 75 and older had been lumped in the third tier, the same category as those in the 65-plus age group.

Moving up this group now gives them the same priority as “essential workers.” In Arizona, that includes educators, workers in the food and agriculture industry, police, firefighters, correctional workers and those in the utility industry.

The recommendation from the CDC panel to move the most elderly up on the priority list was not unanimous.

Politico reports that Henry Bernstein, chief of pediatrics at the Hofstra/Northwell Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York was the lone dissenter. He argued that everyone 65 and older has similar risks and all should have been put into the higher priority group.

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