Levine: Biden vaccine plan OK
State administered only 34 percent of doses received
The state Department of Health has no problem with the upcoming Biden administration’s plan to stop withholding second doses of the COVID-19 vaccines and instead, distribute them as they’re manufactured — relying on the pharmaceutical firms to keep up with demand, so recipients’ second doses are available on schedule, according to Health Secretary Rachel Levine, speaking in a news conference Monday.
But Dr. Levine is not OK with Great Britain’s strategy of postponing second doses beyond the prescribed three weeks for the Pfizer vaccine and four weeks for the Moderna vaccine or with administering smaller doses so that more people can get at least some immunity, she said.
“We need to follow the science” — which for now in the U.S., still calls for adhering to the booster schedule, Levine said in connection with Britain’s strategy.
Officials at the state level don’t have detailed information about the manufacturing of the vaccines, but the Biden administration seems to be confident that the second doses will be available when needed, with help from the Defense Production Act, Levine said.
“As long as the doses are there, we will be able to get more vaccine into arms,” she said.
The process of getting vaccines into arms isn’t going as fast as the state would like, Levine said.
As of Monday, Pennsylvania had received 827,000 vaccine doses and administered 285,000, according to Levine.
That is 34% of the doses received — about the same as for the nation as a whole, according to a New York Times database.
Shots have been administered to about 2.4% of the state’s population (305,000 people, according to the Times database), tying the state for 32nd place in the nation.
The state with the highest percentage of residents vaccinated is South Dakota, with 5.5% — and 70 percent of doses used, according to the Times database.
“I’m not blaming anyone,” Levine said Monday about the state’s position below the midpoint among the states in percentage of people who’ve gotten shots. But she said, “We all need to do better.”
While not casting blame for the vaccination situation, Levine has criticized the federal Operation Warp Speed for setting “unrealistic expectations,” she said.
The vaccination statistics tend to be skewed because the numbers provided for shots that have been administered lag behind the numbers provided for doses received — and because many doses have been arriving in Pennsylvania on Thursdays and Fridays, just before the weekend, she said.
She hasn’t heard about hospitals having problems organizing priority groups to receive shots or of doses being discarded when not enough members of a group volunteer to be vaccinated, but if something like that should happen, those hospitals should do all they can to find recipients for leftover shots, Levine said.
The state is focused now on vaccinating health care workers in group 1A, but if there are thawed doses that need to be used, it’s “absolutely fine” if providers find people in 1B to immunize, she said.
“We want to put vaccine into arms,” she stated. “We don’t want to waste any.”
While still focused on group 1A, the state is preparing for group 1B, which includes police officers, teachers, grocery store workers, postal employees and those over 75, Levine said.
The state will provide information for group 1B shortly, she said.
People in that category who are uncertain whether they ought to be vaccinated should contact their doctors to find out, but otherwise they should “sit tight,” she said.
The state is hoping for recently approved federal stimulus money to help pay for a “communication plan” for vaccinations, according to Levine.
That plan will be “robust,” and will include unpaid and paid media and social media, she said.
It will be designed to “dovetail” with what she hopes will be an equally robust federal communications plan when the Biden administration takes over, she said.
The idea is to promote the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, and to overcome vaccine hesitancy, she said.
Currently, young children aren’t part of vaccination plans because the pharmaceutical firms haven’t tested for those young people, Levine said.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested for people 16 years old and older, while the Moderna vaccine has been tested for people 18 and older, she said.
Further testing will be happening, she said.
The results would need to be approved by the Food & Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.