Roughly 100,000 Pennsylvanians may have their first or second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccination delayed because of what state health officials described Wednesday as “a perfect storm of circumstances.”
The mistake stemmed from an undisclosed number of providers using Moderna vaccine intended for second doses as the first doses, according to Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.
Despite repeated questions during a press conference Wednesday, Beam did not disclose which providers had “inadvertently” done so, while she said the solution was greater communication and transparency.
Beam said the mix-up began in January and became compounded over the ensuing weeks to the point that the number of doses nearly equals the state’s entire allotment this week.
“This situation is a stark reminder that there is not enough vaccine for everyone who is eligible to get it,” Beam said.
While short on details, Beam said Pennsylvanians will have access to their second dose within the 42 days of the first administration.
The two-dose protocol for the Moderna vaccine calls for a second dose 28 days apart.
To address the blunder, Gov. Tom Wolf’s newly created COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force increased the timing of administering the second dose from 28 to 42 days, which falls under federal guidelines. The second dose, which is identical the first, acts as a booster to further stimulate the immune’s response.
“This second dose issue was the first major problem addressed by this task force, and we have demonstrated that we are able to respond in real time and in a bipartisan manner,” said state Sen. Ryan Aument, Senate Republican Caucus Task Force member. “However, we recognize that much work remains to implement a highly efficient and effective statewide plan to ensure that all Pennsylvanians who want to receive the vaccine, can. It is my hope that the task force will continue to work in a collaborative way to streamline and strengthen Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout.”
It is uncertain, with these new vaccines, how failing to administer a second dose within the allotted timeframe could impact effectiveness.
“Immunologically, waiting six weeks after the first dose to administer the second dose will surely result in the same booster response as that found during the three-to four-week interval,” Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and infectious disease physician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said in a press release Wednesday after the admission from the state health department.
David Lo, professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of California Riverside, who LNP | LancasterOnline consulted, agreed.
“Certainly we’re not discouraging people from getting the booster,” Lo said.
Lo added, “Whenever you can get it, get it.”
It is not known how many Lancastrians will be impacted.
Spokespeople with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital and WellSpan Health both said their health systems expected no immediate changes.
“This latest development places even greater strain on an already limited vaccine supply, as well as our efforts to get as many people in our community vaccinated as quickly as possible,” John Lines, a spokesman for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Hospital, said in an email. “Despite those challenges, we expect to deliver all of our committed second doses within CDC guidelines and the maximum, 42-day window from the first dose.”
Ryan Coyle, WellSpan spokesman, said they were assessing their current supply.
UPMC was not impacted by the mishap.
“UPMC has not given any second doses as first doses,” Kelly McCall, a UPMC Lititz spokeswoman, said in an email.
Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, too, said the facility did not administer these second doses.
The Pfizer vaccine has not affected by this error.
LNP Reporter Carter Walker contributed to this report.