Echoing the concerns of health professionals across the region, the Allegheny County Health Department director said it is not prepared to accommodate Pennsylvania’s expansion of covid-19 vaccine distribution.
“I would love to tell you that we can vaccinate all of you who now meet these expanded criteria today,” Dr. Debra Bogen said during a Wednesday news conference. “But the reality is that the current vaccine supply makes this unachievable at this time.”
State officials on Tuesday announced that Phase 1A of vaccinations would be expanded to include people older than 65 and people aged 16-64 with certain health concerns, including cancer, kidney disease, COPD and other conditions that put them at heightened risk of covid-19. The expansion means there are now 4 million people statewide who are eligible for the vaccine.
But the health department only learned of the change yesterday, Bogen said, and as it stands, the county has received less than 20,000 doses per week since the rollout began. She said Allegheny County has plenty of vaccine providers who are eager to help administer doses as quickly as possible, but there just isn’t enough to go around.
The county is still focusing on health care workers and only scheduling vaccine appointments by invitation. Bogen said the health department will use its limited vaccine on workers that other providers may miss, with the goal of ensuring equity and fairness in vaccine distribution.
“If you use a link to the site that was shared with you by friends or family, know that you’re taking away an appointment from a health care worker and delaying our ability to open up vaccines to a broader audience,” she said.
The health department’s update comes the same day as a memo signed by chief medical officers of several health systems in the state about the covid-19 vaccine. The doctors indicate that not enough vaccines are yet available for everyone that has been deemed eligible in Phase 1A of Pennsylvania’s vaccination plan.
Bogen said residents can use a new quiz from the state Department of Health to determine their vaccine eligibility, and use an online map to find a vaccine provider. She noted that supply is limited and demand is high, so it will be challenging to schedule anything at this time. Further, there is no central vaccine registration site for either the county or for Pennsylvania as a whole, putting most of the scheduling onus on individual clinics and hospital. Bogen said the health department is working on a system to register vaccines at county-run sites.
Meanwhile, Bogen said the county’s covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have begun to plateau, falling far lower than what was anticipated following the winter holidays. The county’s positivity rate declined in the last week from 11.5% to 9.3%, and fewer people have died in January than had at this time last month.
Bogen attributes the lower-than-expected figures to the state’s temporary mitigation measures in the final weeks of 2020, which suspended indoor dining and high school extracurriculars and sports, among other restrictions.
“We saw this in the summer, we saw it early on in the pandemic,” Bogen said. “You put in strong mitigation orders, you see a plateau in the cases in about two weeks, and slow and steady decline. That’s exactly what we’ve seen, again.”
She encouraged county residents to remain vigilant, though, especially amid news of hospital resource shortages in places like Los Angeles, and the emergence of two new strains of the virus that are known to be more transmissible.
“The vaccine is very exciting, but we have a long way to go,” she said.
Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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