Vaccination Efforts In PA Slow Going
January 12, 2021
When the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines finally occurred last month, there was a sense of relief. A return to some sense of normalcy, whatever that looks like post-COVID, was welcome news. The Pennsylvania Department of Health originally came out with a phased plan in December. Phase 1A had the vaccine being administered to healthcare workers like doctors and nurses in hospitals and residents of long-term care homes. Phase 1B included first responders and critical care workers, including teachers and school staff. Phase 2 was for high risk and the third phase for everyone else. With new case numbers ranging on average between 5,000 and 10,000 on a daily basis and a positivity rate hovering around 17%, mitigation efforts can't come soon enough.
So, why was a hospital in Northeast Pennsylvania asked by the Department to stop giving vaccinations of the COVID-19 vaccine at such a critical time? Barnes Kasson Hospital, Susquehanna, Susquehanna County had followed the guidelines put out by the state according to David Passetti, Executive Vice President and Clinical Operations Director. I reached out by phone to the Department of Health to ask why the hospital was told to stop. I received two emails from Barry Ciccocioppo, COVID Press Secretary. The first stated, “We know that some hospitals, especially in rural areas, may be able to move more quickly through the phases than others. We have not told anyone to stop vaccinating. But the vaccine providers should still be vaccinating the non affiliated healthcare providers in Phase 1A before moving further to 1B.” Passetti said they started with those in the 1A group. “We were done with 1A. We reached out to everyone who was qualified and some weren’t sure and passed on it. We had some stragglers. There was also an order from the Secretary of Health (Dr. Rachel Levine) that a 10% portion of the vaccine under 1A was to be reserved for private practices who had smaller staff not getting the vaccine delivered to them since it comes in a 100 dose package. We did give the vaccine out under that order to doctor’s offices, chiropractors, dentists, etc. We also offered to give 100 doses to a neighboring hospital who didn’t receive a shipment but later did, so that wasn’t necessary.
We decided to move on to those in 1B because it was the logical thing to do. There were no directions from the state on specific dates on when to start and stop,” he said. At that point, teachers and staff in the Susquehanna County Community School District, Susquehanna and Blue Ridge School District, New Milford, received the vaccine. When they were set to give the vaccine to officials in the Mountain View School District, Kingsley, the hospital was ordered by the state to stop. It should be noted that Barnes Kasson is the medical director for the three school districts. When asked why the hospital should have stopped at Phase 1A, even though they completed it and had vaccine left over, the second email from Ciccocioppo stated, “I am not familiar with the specifics of that hospital, but Sec. Levine answered a similar question at today’s news conference by saying, essentially, she would rather have vaccine go into arms rather than back on shelves.”
Passetti’s response, “I was absolutely told to stop the middle of last week by the emergency preparedness coordinator from the Department of Health. We were further ahead than a lot of the state and they wanted to keep people on the same page. Not sure whose fault it is for those in other areas not being done. There are very few 1A’s (the stragglers) left at this point in our area.” According to a report in the January 9 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, less than ⅓ of the doses delivered to Pennsylvania had been administered according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the state says the tally is undercounted due to reporting lags. The report goes on to say health officials from the state say the vaccine hasn’t been used because of various reasons ranging from the unique situation of the pandemic itself to the reluctance of health care workers taking it. The paper also did an analysis that shows at the current rate vaccinations are being given, not including Philadelphia, getting a first dose to enough Pennsylvanians to approach herd immunity, will take almost 2½ years. So, mitigation efforts being done efficiently are important.
Passetti said, “What is the biggest congregate setting, next to nursing homes, in the county? It’s the schools. With 20-30 per classroom, teachers and staff. It just made sense to move ahead.”
New vaccination guidelines were given out on January 8 to go into Phase 1B if Phase 1A was completed.