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Hileman: Vaccine process slowed

The state has backed off plans to use mass COVID-19 vaccination sites, due to a shortage of vaccines, according to Altoona’s Emergency Management Director and Fire Chief Tim Hileman, speaking at a City Council meeting Monday.

Only 143,000 doses are currently earmarked for Pennsylvania. A third of those will go to nursing homes and the rest dribbled out to 500 vaccination sites — while no information on additional shipments is expected for two weeks, at least, Hileman told council.

It doesn’t make sense to set up large operations when there aren’t enough doses to sustain them, so the ongoing effort will rely for now on small sites handling hundreds of vaccinations per day, rather than big ones handling thousands, Hileman said.

Previously, the federal government had been sending more and more doses each week to Pennsylvanaia, until “it just basically stopped,” Hileman said.

“The whole system has broken down,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers (of doses) we need to get that herd immunity soon.”

In Blair County, 4,003 people have received one dose and 1,382 have received two, according to the state Department of Health.

There are five inoculation sites in the immediate Altoona area that will eventually get vaccines in order to inoculate the public: Thompson Pharmacy on East Chestnut Avenue, Station Medical Center, Altoona Community Health, Weis Market pharmacy on the 600 block of Pleasant Valley Boulevard and Giant Eagle pharmacy.

All are pegged on an interactive map on the Department of Health website, along with contact information for qualifying individuals to set up appointments.

Hileman has tried the site.

“It’s hard to get through,” he said.

The slowing down of the vaccine flow has coincided with the recent massive expansion of the Phase 1A prioritization category.

Initially, 1A comprised health care workers, but now it includes everyone who is at least 65 and everyone 16-64 with a health condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19.

The expansion added 3.5 million people in Pennsylvania.

Still, COVID’s grip on the area is loosening, Hileman told council.

The average number of daily new cases has shrunk to 41 — down from 200 or more in October and November, he said.

The incidence rate — the number of new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week — has shrunk from 447 to 254 in the last 14 days.

The test positivity rate has fallen from 15% to 9.7% over about that same period.

And the infection rate — the number of people on average infected by each person who tests positive — is below 1, at 0.85, Hileman said.

“That was what we wanted to see,” Hileman said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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