Pa. coronavirus update: Vaccination pace slow, improvements promised

People wearing protective masks walk past businesses and apartments along East Carson Street

People wearing protective masks walk past businesses and apartments along East Carson Street in the Southside neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

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Pennsylvania officials announced 5,338 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and 7,506 from the previous day. The total number of infections since the start of the pandmeic is now 726,154.

On Monday, the state recorded 83 new deaths from COVID-19, and combined with 103 deaths on Sunday that brings the total to 17,853.

The statewide percent positivity rate — the number of people tested with positive results — is 14.4% statewide. In 14 of the commonwealth’s 67 counties, the rate is above 20%

There are 5,201 people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19. Of those patients, 1,062 are in the intensive care unit and 640 require a ventilator.

‘Need to do better’

Health officials promised that vaccinations in Pennsylvania were picking up after a slow start.

“Things have already geared up in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation last week, and we can see that the vaccination pace has increased, and I think that that will continue to increase,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

To date, the commonwealth has received 827,300 doses and has given out 285,671. More than 48,000 nursing home residents and staff are among the recipients, but the number could be higher given a lag in reporting from the pharmacies administering the doses on behalf of the federal government, Levine said.

More than 21,000 healthcare workers have received both of the required doses required for the vaccine to be most effective.

Pennsylvania ranks 35th in the country for per capita vaccine delivery compared to all other U.S. states and territories, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Part of the problem has been overpromising, said Levine.

“Some of the messaging came out of the federal government … [with] what I think are unrealistic expectations,” she said, namely that 20 million people would be vaccinated by 2021.

The state has received far fewer doses than originally announced, WHYY has reported.

Officials said other challenges to getting vaccines to the people that need them include starting shots over the holidays, and the fact that the healthcare system has also been swamped dealing with the latest surge in cases.

Pennsylvania cases soared in mid-December to their highest peak since the start of the pandmeic, but started falling around Christmas. Day-to-day, new case numbers remain high.

Against this backdrop, the commonwealth has been pushing to get vaccines to the one million people who are first priority to receive it. That group, 1A, consists of healthcare workers as well as the residents and staff of long term care facilities.

Levine did not say when the state would open up vaccines to the next priority category, which is called 1B. That group includes people 75 and older and other essential workers, including teachers.

If hospitals and health clinics currently administering the vaccine have doses they need to use, but no one in 1A readily available, they are already vaccinating some people in 1B.

“That is absolutely fine … at the end of the day, I don’t want to put vaccine back on the shelf,” Levine said, adding she had not heard any reports of vaccine being discarded because they could not be delivered before they expired.

The state is still waiting to receive $100 million from the federal government to put towards advertising the vaccine and working to deliver it to residents.

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