As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Nicole C. Brambila reported Friday, “Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition officials are still ironing out a referral plan for patients requiring a second COVID-19 vaccine after the center closes at the end of the month. The coalition operates the mass vaccination site at the former Bon-Ton store at Park City Center. Because the site offers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — which requires a second jab three weeks after the initial shot — patients who receive their first COVID-19 vaccine after Wednesday will need to be referred to another vaccine provider.” The contract for that site ends June 30.
Let’s get this straight: If you get your first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center today or Wednesday, you’ll receive your second dose at that Park City Center site.
But if you get your first dose at the mass vaccination center Thursday, or during the three or so weeks that follow, you’ll be referred somewhere else for your second dose?
Whatever happened to finishing a job once started?
And whatever happened to planning ahead?
We find it hard to believe that as of Monday afternoon, the whole referral process still was being worked out.
This is a failure of planning, and one that would not have occurred if a county public health department had been in charge of the mass vaccination site, rather than it being contracted out to a coalition. An existing department would have the means — the staff, the site — to finish the job.
Vaccination clinics run by organizations such as South Asian Association of Lancaster, Patients R Waiting and Union Community Care have made sure to complete the two-dose regimens of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines they administered.
They haven’t handed off the responsibility of finishing the task to someone else. And they have far fewer resources than a coalition led by Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and the Lancaster County commissioners.
This is not to say that we don’t appreciate the work of the Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition. As of last Wednesday evening, it had administered about 220,000 doses, Brambila reported.
Nevertheless, as of last Wednesday, Lancaster County ranked 20th out of 66 counties (this excludes Philadelphia County) in Pennsylvania for its percentage of residents with at least one vaccine dose, according to state health department data reported by Brambila.
About 55% of Lancaster County residents had received at least one dose, state data showed last week.
“I think we’re getting the message out,” Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at LG Health and site director for the county vaccination center, told LNP | LancasterOnline. “I’m reassured by the fact that we’re still seeing 200, 250 walk-ins a day. It shows that they’re continuing to want to get vaccinated when we reduce the barriers to getting vaccinated.”
What is a second-dose referral to another site, though, if not a barrier to completing vaccination?
Returning to a familiar site makes getting a second dose easier. A person has already been through the drill; he or she knows the location and layout of the place, the parking, the people in charge.
We believe there is an element of personal responsibility here. People should be eager to complete their vaccination regimen so that they are protected from COVID-19, their families are protected and their community — and our country — can at long last put this pandemic behind us.
But the reality is that the efforts to make vaccination as convenient as possible have been necessary. Not everyone has a vehicle to get to a vaccine appointment, so vaccination sites either have to be near neighborhoods or reachable by public transportation. Not everyone has a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule, so there need to be later hours and weekend hours.
The Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition has recognized these realities. So why couldn’t it continue to operate the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center in a scaled-down way to deliver the rest of the second shots?
If that’s being considered, why hasn’t coalition spokesman Brett Marcy indicated so? If it’s not being considered, why not?
As The New York Times reported in late April, “Mounting evidence collected in trials and from real-world immunization campaigns points to the peril of people skipping their second doses. Compared with the two-dose regimen, a single shot triggers a weaker immune response and may leave recipients more susceptible to dangerous virus variants.” And while a single dose of a two-dose vaccine provides partial protection against COVID-19, it’s not clear how long that protection will endure.
“I’m very worried, because you need that second dose,” Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory panel, told the Times.
In a separate article, the Times cited a study conducted by Cornell University and Boston Children’s Hospital and reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that found that 20% of Americans surveyed believed they were strongly protected after just one dose of a two-dose vaccine. “And among those respondents who had already received at least one shot, 15 percent didn’t remember being told to come back for a second dose. About half didn’t remember anyone telling them that protection was strongest after the second dose.”
People who get vaccinated at the Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center can choose between the two-dose Pfizer and the one-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines. But the latter is approved only for adults. And we need Lancaster County adolescents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 — fully vaccinated.
According to the Pennsylvania State Data Center, about 28,500 12- to 15-year-olds live in Lancaster County. The Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center had administered only about 4,700 vaccine doses as of last Wednesday to adolescents in that age group.
Now we’re just hoping it can do the bare minimum and stay open as long as necessary to provide crucial second doses for those who get first doses in June’s remaining days.
Legendary women’s college basketball coach Pat Summitt famously said that “finishing is what separates excellent work from average work.” That applies here — though the stakes are much higher in the battle against COVID-19 than in any basketball game.
Get vaccinated: vaccinatelancaster.org