FEMA opening mass vaccination site at Pennsylvania Convention Center

The downtown Philadelphia convention center can handle vaccinating 6,000 people daily from the coronavirus, officials said.

A COVID-19 vaccination site is set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

A COVID-19 vaccination site is set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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FEMA announced it will open a mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center as early as March 3. The vaccine provided will not come from Philadelphia’s allocation.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley praised the choice to host vaccinations at the Convention Center on Arch Street downtown since the weather-protected site can handle 6,000 people per day and be easily accessed by transit.

“We think it’s a great site for this,” Farley said.

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Just hours before FEMA and city officials announced plans for the new mass vaccination site, Pennsylvania Department of Health officials announced that state vaccine shipments were delayed due to winter weather impacting the country. Farley shared concerns Friday that snow and icy conditions have slowed the city’s vaccination distribution too. A number of clinics in the city could not open due to the snow emergency that hit early Thursday morning. Additionally, some of the doses allocated for the city this week will arrive next week because of those weather conditions, Farley said.

“I don’t know if that may slow down some of the providers if they don’t have enough in stock,” Farley said.

Farley announced the city has vaccinated 161,000 people with the first doses of the vaccine and 79,000 with their second doses. As the number of people vaccinated increased, the demographics of those who have received the jabs are gradually becoming more diverse. Farley said the vaccinated population does not reflect the city right now, but they’re working toward that goal. The population of vaccinated people who are Black has increased to 20%, a jump from earlier figures that showed that white people had disproportionately received more vaccine doses.

An analysis of vaccine delivery and uptake throughout the city has revealed low-income and predominantly non-white ZIP codes are “relatively under-vaccinated.” Farley highlighted ZIP codes in North Philadelphia and the near Northeast as being “less-vaccinated.”

In an effort to address the disparities and generally improve the pace of vaccination, the city is ramping up the number of doses to providers across the city, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and community-based providers. Two weeks ago, providers delivered 35,500 doses of vaccines to people. Last week, that number jumped to 47,500 doses.

“We need to have many more substantial increases in the future in order to get to our goal to vaccinate as many of the 1.2 million adults as possible,” Farley said.

The city has referred everyone in its vaccine-interest database over the age of 75 — some 29,000 people — to be vaccinated at city pharmacies. The biggest pharmacy participating is Rite-Aid. The city also used the database to direct unaffiliated health care workers to vaccination clinics the city is running Friday and Saturday. Those under the age of 75 who meet other medical eligibility criteria are being directed to other places run by the city and other providers.

The news of the mass vaccination site came one day after a heated discussion in City Council that ended with a resolution calling for the city to open a vaccination megasite at Lincoln Financial Field. The administration said yesterday it wanted to work with FEMA on the solution announced Friday instead.

Vaccine delays affect Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Department of Health was alerted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that vaccine shipments will be delayed due to winter weather. The department says these disruptions could impact scheduled appointments to receive the jab.

“Weather, this week, has been challenging in terms of getting vaccines delivered from manufacturers directly to vaccine providers in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Pa. Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said. “As we have been emphasizing, we are working with our vaccine providers to ensure they are aware of the shipment delays as they continue to be in contact with people who have scheduled appointments to reschedule so that people are assured of their vaccine.”

Pennsylvania was allocated 183,575 first doses of vaccine this week to be used outside of Philadelphia, which receives its own separate allocation of the vaccine. The state received 112,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 71,175 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech.

The transportation hubs through which the vaccine travels were significantly affected by winter weather earlier this week. The Moderna vaccine was not shipped from the distributor on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday of this week.

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Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were not shipped on Monday, Feb. 15. A limited amount of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was shipped on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

The CDC is working with shipping partners to resume shipments as quickly as possible but there will be a significant backlog of orders for distribution as the federal government and companies work to begin shipping again.

While vaccine supply from the federal government remains limited, the Department of Health is working to ensure the vaccine is provided in a way that is ethical, equitable and efficient, department officials say.

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