Pa. coronavirus update: With vaccine supply limited, Bucks County officials ask for patience

coronavirus vaccine

(Steven Cornfield / Unsplash)

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

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday announced 3,978 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 884,269.

Officials also announced 115 new virus-related deaths, raising the statewide total to 22,860.

There are currently 2,789 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 569 in intensive care.

‘We need to do better’ on vaccine distribution, Wolf says

Gov. Tom Wolf is trying to reassure Pennsylvanians that his administration is working to improve the slow progress on distributing COVID-19 vaccinations — and in particular, he says they’re trying to make the commonwealth’s patchwork of vaccine providers easier to navigate for the elderly people who need vaccines most.

Since the vaccine rollout began, Pennsylvania has consistently had one of the lowest vaccine distribution rates of any state. Right now, it’s ranked around 43rd.

State officials have said states’ rates shouldn’t be compared, because among other things, Pennsylvania is conserving second doses of the vaccine, while some states are not.

Wolf also noted that Pennsylvania has a higher proportion of elderly residents who qualify for vaccines than many other states.

But state-by-state rankings notwithstanding, the commonwealth’s distribution has been sluggish. In late January, a WITF analysis found significant delays between vaccines arriving in Pennsylvania and those vaccines actually being administered.

Officials attributed those delays to slow reporting of vaccine administration, and bottlenecks caused by staffing shortages.

Wolf says the state is working hard to improve the distribution plan, and is frequently upgrading the website where people can try to figure out where they can get vaccines.

But, he said, he knows the commonwealth isn’t where it needs to be.

“I’m not making excuses. We need to do a better job,” he said. We’re all operating under constraints that are real…but I promise, we will do a much better job.”

Secretary of Aging Robert Torres said Thursday that there’s at least one distribution plan that seems promising: having Area Agencies on Aging — the commonwealth has 52 of them across the state — work more closely with counties.

He pointed to Butler County as a success, saying its aging agency has been working closely with the county since vaccine distribution began. It helps give out information, coordinate transportation, and provides assistance at vaccine sites.

Wolf also reiterated a point he has been making since the pandemic began: there still isn’t enough vaccine to fully inoculate everyone who qualifies.

“Even if we were doing a perfect job, which we are not, we still wouldn’t have enough vaccines,” he said.

He urged Pennsylvanians to be “honorable” when it comes to getting vaccines, and for younger, healthier people to refrain from trying to cut in line ahead of more vulnerable people who need inoculation more.

Bucks officials give vaccine update: ‘Please be patient’

Bucks County officials have a message for their many constituents who are trying to get vaccines: Please be patient.

The county commissioners and health officials held a remote press conference Thursday in an effort to, as Commissioner Chair Diane Ellis Marseglia put it, ease the minds of people who are “pretty anxious and trying to figure out where those vaccines are.”

Marseglia said she and other county officials have been inundated by phone calls and emails from people who believe Bucks isn’t doing a good enough job getting doses in arms.

But the problem, she maintained, is supply.

“It’s difficult to wait. It’s like it’s the light at the end of the tunnel and you want to know when you’re going to be there. But you’re going to just have to wait a little longer,” Marseglia said. “We can’t get vials of vaccine that haven’t been made yet.”

Marseglia said Bucks’ allocation of vaccine doses recently went from 2,000 to 3,000 per week, and she’s hoping and expecting that number to keep increasing. But just because the county has the capacity to give out more vaccine, she stressed, it doesn’t mean more vaccine will become available.

Bucks Health Director, David Damsker, also noted several times the short supply is as frustrating for county officials as it is for people who qualify for the vaccine and can’t get it.

“If I could make more vaccine magically appear … that’s what’s going to solve this problem,” Damsker said.”

Bucks has lagged behind some nearby counties, like Montgomery, in its vaccine distribution rates, but in general, its rates are comparable to or higher than other counties’, according to state data.

Supply issues notwithstanding, the county is still planning to expand its vaccine distribution infrastructure. Using federal funds, Bucks has entered into a $14 million contract with a private company, AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, to open clinics with the capacity to give out about 200 doses a day.

Officials say three of those clinics will be opening next week, and as many as six may begin operating in the coming weeks and months if there are enough available doses to justify it.

Bucks residents who are essential workers and qualify for the vaccine can sign up to receive it through the county website — though officials note, that doesn’t mean vaccines will be available right away.

“There will be a day, mark my words, that we’ll have so much vaccine that we won’t be able to find anyone to give it to,” Damsker said. “I know we’re several months away from that … between then and now, it’s going to be a gradient to get there. But we are working as quickly as we can.”

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