COVID-19 vaccinations Lancaster EMS

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and a syringe containing the vaccine sit on a table at Lancaster EMS headquarters in East Lampeter Township on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. 

THE ISSUE

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, more than 1.28 million Pennsylvanians had been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Tuesday afternoon. In Lancaster County, 48,939 people had been at least partially vaccinated. That’s just 9% of the county’s total population and 11% of the estimated 432,000 people ages 16 and older. The county coroner said Tuesday there have been 922 deaths in Lancaster County from COVID-19.

We share the vaccination frustrations of Lancaster County residents such as Kenneth Hartenstine, who told LNP | LancasterOnline’s Hurubie Meko that he’s tried for weeks with no success to schedule vaccine appointments for himself and his wife.

“My feeling is unless someone holds our state government to task, it’s not going to change. I mean, somebody has got to stand in front of the governor and say this ain’t working,” Hartenstine said.

Let us be that somebody.

Pennsylvania — which had at least partially vaccinated just 10.7% of its population as of Tuesday evening — is in the bottom half of states for vaccination, according to The New York Times, .

The primary challenge is, of course, vaccine supply (more on that in a bit). But that’s not the only challenge.

According to Spotlight PA, Gov. Tom Wolf pointed out at a news conference last Thursday that Pennsylvania has one of the largest populations of older adults in the U.S., and the number of people eligible for the first vaccination phase is higher than the populations of some states.

That’s an explanation, or at least a partial one, but not an excuse — especially as the demographics of the state aren’t new, and should have been a key factor in planning.

Wolf acknowledged that Pennsylvania’s vaccination effort needs improvement.

“We still need to make better progress,” the governor said, adding that the rollout needs to be efficient and fair.

We’re glad the governor isn’t denying the fact that Pennsylvania’s rollout has been a disappointment — accountability is good. But action is even more essential.

The commonwealth might want to more closely examine what other states — including its neighbor, West Virginia — are doing better.

West Virginia created a network of local pharmacies to administer the vaccines in long-term care facilities, giving that state more control than if it had opted for a federal plan using chain pharmacies, The New York Times reported. “Central to West Virginia’s strategy, too, is putting the National Guard at the helm of vaccine operations.”

“They are logistical experts,” Jim Kranz, a vice president at the West Virginia Hospital Association, told the Times.

That newspaper described the command center that has been established in a former drill hall on the National Guard’s Charleston, West Virginia, campus, where “a core state team of representatives from various agencies meets” and works to quickly resolve problems.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Feb. 5 that would involve the National Guard in the commonwealth’s plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines. This should happen soon.

Pennsylvania also now has a joint task force consisting of Wolf administration officials and members of each legislative caucus.

As we said last week, the better-late-than-never establishment of that task force seemed “to be one more example of our elected officials playing catch-up in the fight against a lethal virus that hasn’t missed a chance to wreak chaos and sorrow.”

Office of Aging

Similarly, we’re glad that the Lancaster County Office of Aging now is working to identify homebound seniors ages 65 and older and those without internet access to ensure they get vaccinated.

But we’re puzzled as to why the process of identifying those seniors just began Monday, according to Lon Wible, executive director of the Lancaster County Office of Aging.

As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila reported Saturday, “For at least the past two weeks ... Wible’s agency has fielded up to 50 calls a day from frustrated seniors describing futile attempts to get vaccinated in Lancaster County.”

Rebecca May-Cole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging, told Brambila that a number of counties — Montgomery, Mercer, Clearfield and Beaver, among them — already have lists and partnerships with vaccination clinics.

“I have a hard time believing they’re starting from scratch,” May-Cole said of the Lancaster County Office of Aging.

She noted that local aging agencies have been meeting weekly with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging since March.

Perhaps Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons could check in on the county Office of Aging to find out why it’s only now implementing a program to identify seniors in need of vaccination. If, that is, he isn’t too busy calling out state officials on Twitter for their vaccination missteps.

The county Office of Aging is, after all, in the same building as Parsons’ office, and it’s part of county government, which he and the other commissioners oversee.

Better yet, perhaps he could finally move to establish a county public health department to coordinate such efforts. Because clearly, more coordination is needed.

More than a year into the pandemic, the county shouldn’t be starting from scratch on anything related to that pandemic.

Increasing supply

We are approaching, inexorably, the half-million mark in U.S. COVID-19 deaths. And the emergence of novel coronavirus variants is adding to the national urgency for vaccination.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the Biden administration is increasing the number of vaccine doses going to states to 13.5 million per week — a 57% increase since Jan. 20.

The administration also is doubling the supply of vaccine doses to pharmacies, so 2 million doses will go to them this week.

In a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, last Thursday, President Joe Biden announced his administration had just signed the final contracts for 100 million more Moderna and 100 million more Pfizer vaccines.

Biden said both Moderna and Pfizer also have agreed to expedite delivery of 100 million doses so they will arrive at the end of May rather than at the end of June. “That means we’re now on track to have enough supply for 300 million Americans by the end of July,” the president said.

So that’s good news.

But it’s going to take time for these doses to make their way to Pennsylvania and then to Lancaster County.

The Biden administration, unfortunately, wasn’t left with much of a plan by the former administration.

Fox News disputes this, but according to the fact-checking website PolitiFact, the Trump administration’s plan was to “rely on the states.”

The former administration’s plan, much like the rest of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, was “very hands off” when it came to “details of implementing public health interventions,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told PolitiFact.

This was confirmed Tuesday by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Biden’s chief medical adviser. Fauci told CNN that the Trump administration’s plan for “getting the vaccine doses into people’s arms” had been “really rather vague.”

Fauci said there now is “a good plan how to get those doses into people’s arms — we just need more vaccine.”

That’s for sure.

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