Frustration Over Pennsylvania’s Covid-19 Vaccination Response
March 31, 2021
Frustration is the new buzzword when it comes to the vaccination system administered by the state of Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvania remains in the 1A Category, with the exception of teachers and those with certain health conditions, other states like Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (and soon to be Connecticut (April 1) and North Carolina (April 7) ) have opened or will soon open up the vaccination process to all adults 16 and over. In nearby New York State, they have opened eligibility to those 30 and over. According to a recent report from WNEP-TV, people in neighboring Susquehanna County, PA, are crossing over the border into the Binghamton, NY area to get a shot. The TV station also reported that a barbershop in Jessup, Lackawanna County, will be hosting a vaccination clinic courtesy of Rite-Aid. The barber, Mike McAndrew, said he was frustrated that many of his older clients were having such trouble in getting a vaccine appointment. He called around and said Rite-Aid came through with between 100-200 vaccines. He was quoted in the news report as saying he found it strange how he could get the vaccines but local small town pharmacies can’t. Strange indeed. At one point, smaller pharmacies were allowed to give out vaccine but were recently ordered by the state to stop. At a time when the state has been lagging behind for senior citizen appointments, especially in rural areas as has been noted in published reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Scranton Times-Tribune and TV stations like WNEP, wouldn’t it make more sense to open more places up for vaccinations? Maggi Barton, Deputy Press Secretary with Pennsylvania’s Department of Health told Paycheck.com in an emailed statement, “We made adjustments to work with a limited provider network to utilize a temporary strategy that allows providers to get more vaccine to residents faster shortening their overall wait.”
Barton went on to say, “Pennsylvania has administered over 5 million doses of vaccine to more than 3.3 individuals. We remain vigilant to ensure the more than 4 million Pennsylvanians eligible through Phase 1A have a scheduled appointment by Wednesday, March 31. We continue to get vaccine into arms as quickly as we receive it from the federal government to meet the aggressive, bold goals set forward by the President. The state has already moved beyond 1A to vaccine more than 120,000 teachers, school staff, and child care workers without putting strain on the existing provider network. The state is well on its way to completing 1A while moving forward with plans to vaccinate those under the remaining phases of our vaccine plan. According to the CDC today, PA is 5th today on CDC vaccine tracker for total doses administered. There are approximately two million Pennsylvanians 65 and older within the Department of Health’s vaccine distribution jurisdiction. According to the data reported to the department as of March 26, there have been 1,493,933 residents 65 and older who have received the vaccine at this time – nearly 75 percent of seniors 65 and older within our vaccine jurisdiction. Of the 3,179,553 total persons who have received vaccine as of March 19, those 65 and older represent nearly 47 percent of Pennsylvania’s vaccine administration. We are working with providers to ensure that by March 31 everyone in 1A has an appointment scheduled in the coming weeks. We have been seeing good success that people are moving from a wait list to securing a scheduled appointment.” One thing to note, as of March 30, according to the CDC tracker, Pennsylvania is actually in 21st place with total doses administered. Other published reports have that finding as well.
So what could have possibly caused such a backup in the vaccination process? Health experts have said the states with the most successful vaccination systems have a centralized registration system, good communication between state and local officials and a diversified network of both vaccine sites and ways of making appointments. Pennsylvania has initially given counties and health care providers control on how to set up appointments and give out vaccine. Other states, like neighboring New Jersey, have a phone hotline set up to take calls for vaccination appointments. Pennsylvania does not. The state has a website with COVID information, but you cannot make an appointment through it. Most senior citizens don’t own or use a computer. New Jersey has also had mass vaccination sites for months. Pennsylvania is just beginning to get them set up.
Unused doses have also been talked about. Spotlight PA requested documentation of vaccine doses that providers didn’t administer because of expiration, damage or other factors. No patient information was requested. According to Philly.com, the state Department of Health denied the request based upon the Disease Prevention and Control Law. To be fair, other states and the federal government have also declined to provide that information according to an Associated Press report.
Governor Tom Wolf said in a statement today that things look like all Pennsylvanians who want their initial shot will be able to get one by late April or early May. Frustrated residents hope so. Pointing fingers is easy. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in Pennsylvania is proving to be harder than it should be.