Allegheny County officials said Wednesday they are making plans to take vaccine doses into senior high rises and similar communities, setting up a phone registration and looking for ways to streamline the registration process.
The steps take time, officials said, and take a larger and more reliable supply of vaccine. The county – as well as providers around the region – have difficulty planning for future vaccine appointments when allocations are unpredictable in amount and in arrival.
“I know there is a lot of frustration out there,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, the county’s health director. “Clinics are filling up fast. The registration system from the state is confusing and sometimes it doesn’t work. You’re wondering when you can get a vaccine and how you can get a vaccine. I really do hear you.”
After opening appointments for vaccine distribution last week, all of the slots were filled in less than 30 minutes, Bogen said. Now, health department staff members are going through appointments of everyone who registered at the county site and canceling appointments for people who are not eligible.
Bogen said the county is still experiencing shortages in vaccine supply. She estimated that about a third of the county’s population is now eligible – but there are not enough doses to go around.
Overall, though, Bogen said vaccinations are increasing in communities across the county. The health department received around 50,000 doses last week, roughly double the number in the week prior.
All of the county’s health systems and several community pharmacies are offering doses, and the health department was sent enough vaccine this week to ensure second doses while continuing first-dose vaccinations.
“We have so many willing and able people and organizations at the ready to help vaccinate,” she said.
County officials were hopeful the new presidential administration will reorganize federal efforts at vaccine rollout, streamlining vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
President Joe Biden on Monday set a goal to vaccinate at least 100 million Americans in his first 100 days in office. He said there would be enough vaccine for 300 million doses by the end of summer. Biden also invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up manufacturing of the vaccines.
“I think the fact that the president and his team have just focused on this and really made this a priority – meeting with the manufacturers, putting plans in place to do distribution … it looks to me like it is going to improve,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.
As vaccine rollout develops, Allegheny County’s covid-19 levels are “encouraging,” Bogen said.
The average daily case count is below 300 this week, 120 less than last week. The county’s positivity rate has also fallen to 7.8%, a decline of 1.6% from last week. The decline has allowed the health department to spend more time on case investigations for all. At the end of November, the health department announced that investigators would have to prioritize which people they called, due to the quantity of new cases being reported.
Still, Bogen asked residents to not let the numbers “lull” them into thinking it is safe to stop practicing covid safety – especially with new variants of the virus emerging. She said the health department is watching for signs to see if the variants are present in Allegheny County and surrounding areas.
“If these variants become the dominant strain in our region, it could undo all of the hard work we’ve done to bring case counts down,” 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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