After a Great Deal of Public Advocacy ADHS Capitulates & Will Now Allow Pima County to Work Directly with FEMA on PODs for their Underserved Areas

For the last couple of months FEMA has offered states an opportunity to receive federal resources with which to operate vaccination centers. They offer vaccination resources using several models, ranging from large mega-sites to mobile clinics that can be deployed in underserved areas.

FEMA makes it clear that vaccines used in their centers “… are provided to the states above and beyond the regular allocations” . FEMA also offers states funding, personnel and supplies for their centers.

Many states have taken advantage of these federal resources to help them with their response, but Arizona has been declining FEMA assistance for several weeks now.

The big question is why? We don’t know for sure. Director Christ has made statements about why Arizona has declined assistance, but her remarks directly contradict those of FEMA- who makes it clear that vaccine at their centers are over and above standard state allocations. She also said that FEMA sites have wait times of “four to five hours” which is false.

After these false claims were made in the Arizona Republic by Director Christ last weekend, the FEMA Region 9 administrator pushed back hard in a strongly worded letter to the ADHS Director.

In it, Tammy L. Littrell Acting Regional Administrator, states that:

… I am concerned that our conversations earlier this week did not include the reservations you outlined yesterday when communicating with the press.” 

The letter goes on to specifically dispute each and every false claim about the FEMA program that Director Christ made in the media.


Pima County Health Department has specific resourced plans in place to implement FEMA vaccine centers in some of their most underserved areas. The additional Community Vaccination Centers would be federally supported sites focused on areas with a high Social Vulnerability Index at El Pueblo Community Center and the Kino Event Center.

The FEMA Center would be closely coordinated with local health officials and would come with an additional eight-week vaccine supply, clinical and administrative staff, and 100% federal funding. It would be led by local public health officials that would have oversight of the vaccination mission.

Over a 6 week period the partnership would vaccinate an additional 210,000 people in Pima County – mostly in low income areas where the vaccine access disparities are… doubling the vaccine supply to the county over that time period!

Pima County specifically asked Director Christ to submit their request to FEMA, yet she refused to do so until Friday, when she agreed to “allow” Pima County to work directly with FEMA on the PODs.

It was puzzling to many of us in public health why she would refuse to allow Pima County to ask FEMA for these critical resources. Perhaps it was because of her long-standing dispute with Pima County about ADHS’ refusal to reimburse Pima County for $7.6M in COVID-19 testing costs between December 21, 2020 and January 15, 2021.

Additionally, persons from Pima County have been among the most vocal in the state about Director Christ’s and Governor Ducey’s decision-making during the pandemic, perhaps that is part of it.

UPDATE: After a great deal of negative media attention, Director Christ released a statement on Friday afternoon that she “… is delegating authority to Pima County to work independently with FEMA to operate vaccine PODs”.

We shall see what comes out of this now that the state health department is out of the way.