Pennsylvania will begin giving the general public the COVID-19 vaccine “soon,” according to state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, but she will not provide a timeline.
“We are working to ensure that everyone who wants access to a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get it,” Levine said during a Monday press conference. “I know it is really challenging to have patience, but we must show patience as the amount of vaccine available to Pennsylvania is still extremely limited and it will take several months before there is enough vaccine available for everyone.”
Levine urged people to take time now to contact their medical providers and find out if they are candidates for the vaccine before it becomes available to the general public.
The state has been concentrating on the first phase of the rollout plan — Phase 1A — when health-care personnel, employees and residents of long-term care facilities, emergency services personnel and other first contact workers are scheduled to be vaccinated.
There are more than 1 million people in the first phase alone.
So far, the state has received 807,300 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and administered 285,671 (35%) of those doses. Second doses have been administered to 21,291 health-care workers statewide.
As of Monday, providers throughout Lancaster County had administered 10,232 first doses and 599 second doses. According to a U.S. Census Bureau 2019 estimate, the county’s population is 545,724 — meaning that about 2% of the county’s total population has been vaccinated.
According to Becker’s Hospital Review rankings of state vaccine distributions, Pennsylvania is ranked number 32 in the nation.
Revised vaccine rollout plan
Levine reiterated Monday that the speed of the state’s rollout is dependent on vaccine allocations from the federal government. Pennsylvania has been allocated an additional 138,000 doses this week.
The state released a revised vaccine rollout plan Friday that condensed the timeline for when vaccines would reach the general public — creating a new Phase 1C, cutting out Phase 3 and ending the rollout in two phases. Under the new plan, the general public will receive the vaccine in Phase 2.
In Phase 1B, the vaccines will reach non-health care first responders like law enforcement, critical workers like manufacturing sector employees and teachers, individuals with high-risk conditions and those older than 75.
The new Phase 1C is created to reach people between the ages of 65 and 74, those between 16 and 64 with high risk conditions and other “essential workers” — like bank tellers, government employees and those in food service — sooner.
No specifics on timing
State House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R. Mifflin) sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf and Levine on Monday asking for members of the state General Assembly and elected and appointed state officials to be removed from the state’s 1C phase.
“We should not be advanced in line to receive this life-saving vaccine at a time when supplies remain limited. Regardless of supply, we should not be advanced before the general public and certainly should not be able to receive this vaccine at the same time as at-risk populations,” Benninghoff said in the letter.
But how much earlier than the general public group 1C would get the vaccine is unknown since the state’s revised plan is not specific on timing.
When the time comes for more of the population to be inoculated, the state will utilize a communication plan to get word out, Levine said.
The state’s plan mentions working directly with partners, county municipal health departments and medical providers to coordinate mass inoculation efforts in the final phases.
For example, Levine asked hospitals to create a system for medical professionals and first responders who are not hospital employees to sign up to be vaccinated by last week. Under her orders, 10% of hospital vaccines are to be reserved for this effort.
The state Department of Health released a map with vaccination locations and contact information for medical professionals not affiliated with hospitals to schedule their appointments on Monday.
When vaccines become accessible to a larger population, state spokespeople have said the state health department plans to utilize an online portal for people to sign up for their vaccination appointments. By using an appointment-based system, vaccine providers would avoid long lines and people congregating, they said.