Philadelphia plans to open six mass coronavirus vaccination clinics this month, officials said Tuesday, aiming to inoculate 500 people a day in the wake of its decision last week to sever ties with Philly Fighting COVID.
Grocery and drugstore pharmacies will also begin offering shots to Philadelphians 75 and older, and city officials are hoping some hospitals will open mass vaccination clinics as they transition from inoculating health-care workers to other residents.
But because of the limited supply of doses, it’s still likely to be “many weeks” before shots become available to younger and healthier people, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.
Kenney and Farley declined to discuss Philly Fighting COVID on Tuesday, citing an ongoing city investigation into the matter. But Farley sought to restore public confidence in the vaccination process, saying the city’s priorities remain quickly delivering vaccines, saving as many lives as possible, and ensuring racial equity in distribution.
“Let me be clear, we have more to do in each of these areas. I do believe that we at the Department of Public Health can succeed in doing this,” he said at a news briefing. “We ask people just give us time to show that we can do that.”
The city-run clinics will establish infrastructure and expand residents’ options as Philadelphia and the nation wait for an increase in the federal vaccine supply. Existing staff and contract nurses will be deployed to the sites to start, but the city also plans to hire additional staff, Farley said, since vaccination will be a long-term endeavor.
About 400,000 residents are eligible in the city’s current 1B phase, which covers residents over age 75 and those with certain health conditions, as well as first responders, teachers, certain essential workers, and people who live and work in congregate settings.
For now, the city’s supply remains limited to about 20,000 first doses per week. Farley said Tuesday that Philadelphia will remain in phase 1B for months before distribution can expand to other parts of the population.
“I realize that there are many, many people who want this vaccine who are having trouble difficulty getting it, many people who are very frustrated by where we are,” he said.
Health-care workers at the city’s jails are vaccinating staff members and will soon begin inoculating incarcerated people. Transit workers will also soon begin to receive shots, Farley said. The city is still negotiating a possible vaccination site for teachers, though Kenney said he could not divulge details.
Meanwhile, city hospitals have started to vaccinate patients who meet age and health condition criteria, but they are not doing so as quickly as they vaccinated their own staff members, Farley said. The city has urged them to open mass clinics to use more of the vaccine doses they have in storage.
The city’s clinics — three first-dose and three second-dose sites — will open the week of Feb. 22. Residents who have signed up on the city vaccine interest website will be invited to schedule appointments as they become available.
“We’re working our way out of this with the Biden administration and the state and the CDC, and we’re trying to get as much vaccine as we can,” Kenney said.
On Wednesday, the city will begin administering second doses for people who received their first doses from Philly Fighting COVID, Farley said. The city is contacting people who are in that position to ensure no one misses their second dose.
In addition, pharmacies will begin making appointments for city residents who are 75 and older, also using the city’s online platform. Residents who have preregistered with the city will receive sign-up links as slots open, and will be asked not to share the links.
ShopRite pharmacies will offer vaccination at three locations, and Walgreens will do so at 20 locations, Farley said. Rite Aid pharmacies, which are still working with the city to inoculate health-care workers, will begin treating others later this month.
Eligible Philadelphians who lack internet access can call a hotline at 215-685-5488 for help making appointments.
In New Jersey, CVS pharmacies will offer vaccinations at 27 locations starting Feb. 11 as part of a newly announced federal effort that will send the vaccine to 6,500 pharmacies nationwide. New Jersey is one of 11 states CVS will serve in the rollout. Other pharmacies will also offer vaccines through the program.
The Biden administration also announced another increase in vaccine doses to states, bringing it to 10.5 million nationwide per week, a 22% increase since the president took office Jan. 20. That will be the minimum amount shipped for the next three weeks as the government works with manufacturers to increase supply, according to the administration.
In New Jersey, where the state’s six vaccine mega-sites stayed closed Tuesday due to the winter storm, 2,811 newly confirmed virus cases and 71 deaths were reported.
Pennsylvania reported 4,410 cases and 125 deaths, and the commonwealth is now averaging 5,428 new infections a day over the last seven days, down from the peak of 10,579 in mid-December.
New case numbers are also declining in Philadelphia, which reported 382 new cases and 12 deaths.
However, with most residents not yet vaccinated, Farley said it’s critical to continue social-distancing measures — including avoiding any Super Bowl parties or gatherings.
“Everyone needs to keep up their masks and their distancing for now,” he said.