As Lancaster County gears up to launch a COVID-19 mass vaccination site next week and anticipates an increased number of vaccines in the coming weeks under a strengthened state allocation formula, many county residents still have questions about how they can access the vaccine.
State Sens. Ryan Aument and Scott Martin held a virtual town hall with county officials Tuesday to answer questions about the soon-to-open site and provide vaccine-related updates.
Lancaster County’s mass vaccination site, in the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center, will be operated through a collaborative effort of local vaccine providers, with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health taking the lead.
The site is designed to handle a consistent flow of about 200 people getting shots at any given time for a daily total of up to 6,000 people — putting the clinic at the same capacity as federally run vaccine clinics in larger cities.
Experts have warned that hitting the maximum shots per day will depend heavily on how many doses the state Health Department allocates to to the site's efforts.
Here are four takeaways from Tuesday night’s town hall.
The mass vaccination clinic will undertake a ‘pilot week’
The vaccination center will have a “pilot week” next week, according to Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer of Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.
Vaccinations will start slowly, he said.
Anticipating an increase in vaccine dose allotment from the federal government throughout March, Ripchinski said the volume of doses the state allocates to the center will control how many appointment slots are open for scheduling.
Depending on vaccine availability, staff working at the center will begin getting vaccinated Monday, with the goal of opening appointments to the public in Phase 1A by March 10, John Lines, hospital spokesman, said in a phone interview after the town hall.
More than 500 people will volunteer at or be employed by the center, Lines said.
Registrations for next week will open after site officials find out how many doses they will be allocated from the state over the weekend.
A centralized state website to ease sign-ups and scheduling at mass vaccination site
Utilizing the existing “Your Turn” webpage, Aument said the state Department of Health is creating a centralized vaccination sign-up tool.
Once someone enters their information using the to-be-launched tool, there will be a “soft hand-off” to local providers to book an appointment.
Once the mass vaccination site is launched, appointments can be scheduled through VaccinateLancaster.org and a soon-to-open call center. Information will come out through multiple sources when scheduling is open.
The online scheduling system will ask for county of residency, age and underlying high-risk medical conditions to determine eligibility under the state’s Phase 1A, Ripchinski said. Staff scheduling appointments through the call center will ask the same questions, he said.
For now, Lancaster residents may use the county's VaccinateLancaster.org site to get updated vaccine-related information.
Teachers will become eligible for vaccines this week
Gov. Tom Wolf will announce at 11 a.m. today a specialized plan to vaccinate teachers using the state’s first allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses.
This teacher classification will be separate from the state’s existing Phase 1A rollout, and teachers will not compete with seniors and those with underlying high-risk medical conditions for Pfizer and Moderna vaccine doses through the current provider networks, Aument said.
“Teachers are not competing with our seniors,” Aument said. “We’re going to continue to prioritize the increasing supply for seniors and those in 1A.”
This “1A-plus” plan for teachers, as Aument called it, will likely utilize intermediate units — regional education service agencies — as vaccination clinics, he added.
Pennsylvania will initially be allocated 94,000 doses this week, Aument said. Because the vaccine is newly approved, Johnson & Johnson needs time to ramp up production, meaning Pennsylvania will likely receive little to no new vaccines for the next few weeks from Johnson & Johnson after its initial allocation this week.
This creates a “unique opportunity” for the state to get more students back to school in person, he added.
Aument clarified the teacher vaccination proposal was separate from its Phase 1A rollout, after it was initially leaked to the media on Monday with incomplete information from another joint task force member.
No one will be mandated by county government to receive the vaccine
Commissioner Ray D’Agostino ensured the county will not create any mandate for county residents to receive the vaccine.
“I can tell you right now, Lancaster County will not be mandating people to get the vaccine. That’s not simply something we’re going to do,” D’Agostino said. “We’ve all been saying we will make sure that the vaccine is available for those that want the vaccine, but we’re not going to mandate it.”
Martin said there also has been no discussion at a state level about mandating Pennsylvania residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.