Montco officials bemoan vaccine supply, ‘line-jumpers’ as Pa. urges patience

Registered nurse Pat DeHorsey vaccinates Cornelia Lavong at a county run clinic

Registered nurse Pat DeHorsey vaccinates Cornelia Lavong at a county run clinic at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the current surge?

Pennsylvania Department of Health officials on Monday announced 3,128 new cases of COVID-19, raising the statewide total to 853,616. An additional 143 virus-related deaths were reported, bringing the total number of fatalities to 21,955.

‘We must be patient’: Pa. vaccinations going slowly but surely

At least 1.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to more than 850,819 Pennsylvanians. The actual number is higher, state officials say, due to a lag in reporting.

Pennsylvania was allocated 166,375 doses of vaccine this week for residents’ first doses, plus another 139,875 for second doses. Philadelphia, as well as federal facilities like military bases and federal prisons, receives and administers its own doses.

Next week, President Joe Biden’s administration will send vaccines directly to retail pharmacy partners, which in Pennsylvania are Topco and Rite Aid.

Pennsylvania will need a total of 8 million doses to vaccinate every single eligible resident with two doses.

“Vaccine providers are working as quickly as possible to vaccinate you,” said Department of Health Senior Advisor Lindsey Mauldin. “Right now the demand for vaccines far outweighs the supply, but it will catch up. There will be enough vaccines in the future to vaccinate everyone. We must be patient.”

Mauldin said the state is working to increase access to the vaccine, including by improving its 877-PA-HEALTH hotline to help those who don’t have internet access schedule an appointment, and by reaching out to networks that can do outreach to seniors. The state also plans to launch community testing sites.

Unlike Philadelphia and some other counties, the Pennsylvania Department of Health does not yet have a site for residents to sign up for a vaccine appointment. The department plans to partner with pharmacies and health systems.

“I know other states have put up other sign-ups for folks to be scheduled for vaccines, but they face the same problem we face in Pennsylvania, which is a limited supply,” Mauldin said.

Mauldin said Pennsylvania residents should keep their eye on the health department’s website for updates. A map of the commonwealth indicates where vaccine providers are located. The map is currently only in English, but Mauldin said the state is working with its health equity response team to ensure equitable vaccine distribution.

Pat Moore administers a covid-19 vaccine to Ethan Lee
Pat Moore, right, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare technician Ethan Lee at the Chester County Government Services Center, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Montco officials: ‘We need more vaccine’

Montgomery County officials on Wednesday asked for the public’s patience as it continues to administer COVID-19 vaccines to residents who are eligible under Pennsylvania’s Phase 1A.

Commissioner Dr. Valerie Arkoosh cited the state’s recent expansion of the 1A group — without a comparable increase in the number of vaccine doses delivered — as the biggest hindrance to its vaccine rollout. The county’s most recent vaccine shipment, in fact, included fewer doses than the previous week.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health on Jan. 19 modified 1A to include residents ages 65 and up, as well as ages 16 to 64 with certain pre-existing conditions.

With the state’s expanded definition, 230,000 to 250,000 additional Montgomery County residents qualify for Phase 1A. As of Tuesday, there are 139,926 people pre-registered to receive the vaccine.

The county has the infrastructure in place to administer the vaccines, Arkoosh said. “We just need more vaccine.”

Health officials pointed to “line-jumpers” as another concern.

Arkoosh urged residents to refrain from sharing their vaccination appointment links, which are intended only for a given individual based on eligibility. According to the department, residents posting such links via social media have presented an opportunity for people to jump ahead.

“This is not ethical or moral and it needs to stop,” Arkoosh said. “We need to make sure our most vulnerable get vaccinated first.”

The county, Arkoosh said, is required to use DOH software for generating vaccine appointments, and the appointment links are not unique to an eligible individual.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Arkoosh said of the limitation.

Under DOH guidelines, county officials are unable to turn people away for vaccination who are eligible and have registered but are not county residents or workers.

Next week, the county plans to launch a call center to answer residents’ questions about vaccinations. People will be able to pre-register for vaccination over the phone.

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