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Vaccine demand outstrips supply

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout problems that have received so much attention recently can be reduced to a pair of numbers, according to information presented by a spokesman for the Department of Health in a news conference Wednesday.

Last week, the state’s vaccine providers made a collective request for 705,000 vaccine doses, said Barry Ciccocioppo.

This week, the federal government is sending those providers a mere 166,000 doses, Ciccocioppo said.

“There’s not enough vaccine,” Ciccocioppo stated, when asked why the state doesn’t set up a central vaccination registry.

The shortage is severe enough that it would be impractical to make appointments far enough ahead with a central registry, Ciccocioppo said.

The shortage is national, he said, citing cancellations of appointments in other states.

Currently, Pennsylvania is curating a decentralized system of 1,000-plus providers, whose locations and contact information is available on an interactive map on the department website.

Many people desperate for vaccinations have spent lots of stressful time trying to get through to these providers, and because of the uncertainty, they often make multiple appointments, which leads them to ignore all but the appointment at which they ultimately get vaccinated, creating confusion, according to reports.

While the vaccine shortage is the biggest issue, Ciccocioppo said a central registry could help, even if it only managed to secure users’ place in line — without providing them appointments at this juncture.

“I understand the frustration,” Ciccocioppo said. “It’s going to take time.”

The state has not yet established a deadline for finishing Phase 1A of the vaccination plan, which comprises about 4.5 million members, all of whom need to get two shots several weeks apart. But the state is putting the infrastructure in place to move ahead when doses are more plentiful, he said.

“If we had 8 million doses, Phase 1A would be done,” Ciccocioppo said.

While the federal government is not providing nearly enough vaccines to meet demand, it is trying to make the flow of doses more even and predictable, Ciccocioppo said.

Until a few weeks ago, the state only learned what to expect a week in advance.

The Biden administration has committed to providing three weeks’ notice, he said.

“The federal government is trying to inject some stability,” he said.

The state in turn is trying to do the same for providers, he said.

The federal government is also beginning to ship additional vaccines directly to a pair of pharmacy organizations that will offer shots to the general public.

Rite Aid and Topco will be getting 40,000 doses a week, Ciccocioppo said.

The state doesn’t plan to ignore providers who violate the agreements they all sign to comply with state guidance on vaccination eligibility, according to Ciccocioppo, in answer to a reporter who said she heard of “concierge” doctors who’ve been vaccinating people not in Phase 1A. The implication is that wealthier people are getting unfair access, the reporter said.

Phase 1A comprises health workers, everyone 65 and up and those 16 to 64 with health conditions that make them vulnerable.

“We can take up action if necessary, when we see a violation,” Ciccocioppo said.

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