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State vaccine efforts falling short

Lack of doses blamed for low rates

Pennsylvania is “in the middle of the pack” in vaccination performance with its decentralized approach — and not only needs to improve, but is willing to “steal” successful practices from other states if that will help, Gov. Tom Wolf said during a virtual news conference Tuesday.

But the main holdup for Pennsylvania and other states is a lack of doses from the federal government, according to Wolf and officials at the meeting.

“(When we) get more vaccines, I think we will do better,” Wolf said. “We want to be at the top.”

Pennsylvania is actually below the middle in percentage of doses received that have been administered — 41st, at 5.1%, placing it in the 18th performance percentile, according to a New York Times chart.

Alaska is first, at 11.1%, and Missouri is last at 4.3%.

Some states have set up central registration systems for scheduling vaccination appointments, in contrast to Pennsylvania’s system, which relies on a Department of Health interactive map that shows the locations of about 1,000 hospitals, pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and other vaccination sites, with a feature that provides contact information for each, so people can set up appointments.

The state is using that method because many of those providers have scheduling systems already arranged for handling inoculations — arrangements that can be strengthened by the COVID-19 experience to be even more useful in future emergencies, according to acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.

Still, the state has been “wrestling” with ways to be more efficient, according to Beam.

“If a registration system is something that might get us there, we will certainly give it consideration,” Wolf said. “We recognize we need to do a better job.”

The situation has led some residents to cross state lines for shots — a phenomenon that the department interprets as a “challenge,” according to Beam.

“We don’t want Pennsylvanians to feel they need to go out of state to get vaccinated,” she said.

Since Jan. 19, supply has been scant, compared to overwhelming demand, due to the state’s adoption of new federal eligibility guidelines.

Phase 1A had comprised the state’s 1 million health care workers, many of whom were already vaccinated.

The change instantly added 3.5 million more people — everyone 65 and up and everyone 16 to 64 with compromising health conditions.

His administration had expected the federal supply of doses would increase accordingly, according to Wolf.

“(But that) didn’t materialize,” the governor said. “(It’s) been “frustrating and disappointing.”

It has led to “a huge influx of calls” to the providers whose information is on the interactive map, Wolf said.

The state has been urging the Biden administration to increase the number of doses manufactured, according to Wolf. “They’re doing all they can,” he said.

For now, though, his administration needs to be “managing expectations,” Wolf said.

People need to be patient, Beam said.

If necessary, they can check with their doctors to discuss their coronavirus risks, keep tabs on the DoH website, give the department feedback and if they’re uncertain about eligibility, take the website eligibility quiz, Wolf said.

They also need to continue to practice mitigation tactics, including masking, social distancing, avoiding crowds and washing hands, Wolf said.

Looking a bit further ahead, the state is planning for community clinics tailored to suit urban, suburban and rural settings, according to Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The clinics will be especially necessary in areas where there are “pharmacy deserts,” Padfield said.

But the plans are short on specifics, as the state knows only two weeks ahead how many doses it will be receiving, Padfield said.

The state is hoping for help from the federal government in setting up bigger, mass vaccination clinics like the mass testing clinics the federal government helped Pennsylvania set up in the spring, Padfield said.

There is talk about 100 such mass vaccination clinics nationwide, Padfield said.

They would be done with federal support, state management and local execution, comporting with the “doctrine” of cooperation used throughout emergency management, Padfield said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has allocated $1.6 million to PEMA to establish sites that would each administer 500 doses per day for two weeks, according to a FEMA news release Tuesday.

The vaccination effort is the biggest and most complex one ever undertaken, Padfield said.

“It will get better,” he said.

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

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