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Vaccine providers to be decreased

State to cut smaller providers in effort to speed process

In order to improve its widely condemned percentage of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, the state Department of Health will shrink the number of active providers from 780, to 200-300 — favoring the hospital systems, community health centers, local health departments and independent pharmacies that have been doing the best, while dropping primary care doctors’ offices and other small providers whose performance has lagged.

The providers being retained will need to administer at least 80% of their first doses within a week, report all shots within 24 hours and make patient registrations available online and by phone to accommodate people uncomfortable with technology or lacking it, according to an order from Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam, who spoke at a virtual news conference Friday.

“We need to make sure we focus in on the providers that are able to reach the communities quickly,” Beam said. “We must make appointments accessible to all who are eligible.”

Providers will also need to limit vaccinations to those in Phase 1A: health workers, everyone 65 and older and everyone 16 to 64 with compromising health conditions — a total of 4.5 million Pennsylvanians.

Providers who violate any of the order’s provisions may have their allocations temporarily reduced or suspended, according to the department.

Next week, the department will “double down” on getting data from providers and will check out their resources and staffing to ensure they can comply with the new registration system requirements — particularly by having enough employees to field phone calls.

The expectation is that an actual person should answer the phone to guide callers toward registering for vaccinations, according to Beam.

The vaccine allocations for now will depend on how well providers can show themselves to be capable of dispensing the number they request, according to Beam.

Providers will need to “be abundantly clear” on the department’s expectations before placing their next orders, she said.

The head of Mainline Pharmacy’s vaccination effort is pleased at the change.

“It makes sense,” said Pharmacy Director John Pastorek, whose firm has given about 10,000 shots so far in clinics held at Saint Francis University, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, Saint Vincent College in Latrobe and a church in Harrison City.

The company is capable of dispensing 15,000 shots a week, Pastorek said.

The nationwide chronic shortage of vaccines so far, however, has been limiting the Mainline effort.

“This week, we got 300 (doses),” Pastorek said.

The company is prepared to offer phone registration, he said.

While its phone greetings tell callers to access the company’s online portal, and while online access is more efficient and preferable, the company has actually made many appointments via phone already, Pastorek said.

When vaccines first became available, the department adopted a policy of “inclusivity” — welcoming many providers, who “stepped up,” Beam said.

But for many of the smaller ones, the rate of shots administered fell off after they vaccinated their staffs, Beam said.

The doses that haven’t been administered expeditiously have included both allocations intended for first doses and allocations for second doses that have been held until recipients were ready for them, officials indicated.

The department has repeatedly urged providers not to withhold second doses, because the state orders them for just-in-time delivery to providers as needed, officials have said.

When the state is doing better and when vaccines are plentiful, the department will re-enlarge its provider network — 1,700 have signed up — making it more convenient for many people to get shots, Beam said.

The state does not plan to institute a centralized registration system, despite calls from various sources to consider it, Beam said.

Many successful providers have invested in information technology systems that work for them in scheduling appointments for first and second doses and follow ups, and they would be reluctant to abandon those systems for some alternative system, according to Beam.

There are county health departments, however, that don’t have those kinds of systems, and for them, the state is offering PrepMod, according to Beam and department spokesman Barry Ciccocioppo.

It will help those counties set up clinics, Ciccicioppo wrote in an email.

PrepMod is a scheduling program that not only allows agencies to set up appointments but to also compile waiting lists for people who sign up when there are no appointments available due to vaccine shortages. The program includes a feature that allows agencies to invite people on the waiting lists to schedule appointments when enough vaccines become available, according to the program’s user manual.

Pennsylvania providers have administered 1.5 million vaccinations so far to 1.1 million individuals, according to department senior adviser Lindsey Mauldin.

About 82% of those vaccinations were first shots, Mauldin said.

About 356,000 second doses have been administered, she said.

That, however, is only 35% of the second doses that the state has received, she said, which seems to point to one of the factors responsible for the state’s poor administration statistics.

The state received 175,000 first doses this week and 143,000 second doses, for a total of 318,000, according to Mauldin.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7083.

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