Vaccine rollout mistake could affect first, second doses for more than 100,000 Pennsylvanians

A nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a health worker.

A nurse administers the COVID-19 vaccine to a health worker. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

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

Updated: 4:25 p.m.

More than 100,000 Pennsylvanians could be forced to reschedule their COVID-19 vaccine appointments this week because some providers have been incorrectly administering doses since January.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced Wednesday that over several weeks, some providers administered first doses of Moderna vaccine that was meant to be dedicated to people receiving their second dose.

Because of this mishandling of administering doses, Pennsylvania now has more vaccine appointments than supply.

Providers in the state requested about 200,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine for those with second dose appointments this week. But this number equals the total amount of Moderna vaccines the state was allocated this week for both first and second dose appointments.

Now, thousands of Pennsylvanians with appointments this week for first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine will have to reschedule their appointments to one or two weeks from today.

At a press conference Wednesday, officials refused to disclose which providers had made this error.

Those receiving the Pfizer vaccine are not affected.

“It seems that the perfect storm of circumstances, and eagerness to get vaccine to residents, incredible pent up desire by the public to get this vaccine, dedicated vaccine providers trying to deliver what their customers are demanding, inconsistent vaccine allocations, confusion about Operation Warp Speed vaccine deliveries, and the need for more frequent and clear communication from the department all converged to bring us to the point we’re in today,” said Department of Health Acting Secretary Alison Beam.

Officials say they have a clear path forward, and are “committed to ensuring second doses are available.”

Those receiving the Moderna vaccine are meant to receive doses 28 days apart. However, the CDC recently issued a recommendation that if vaccine supplies are short, people can wait for the second dose up to 42 days after the first dose. Pennsylvania officials said the state will ensure that Pennsylvanians receive their second dose within that 42-day period.

The state is addressing the issue by using excess vaccines, and by adjusting the timing of the second dose from 28 days to up to 42 days.

“Our goal remains getting the extremely limited supply of vaccines to people as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Beam said.

She added that there is still a need for more supply of the vaccine.

“This situation is a stark reminder that right now there is not enough vaccine for everyone who is eligible to get it,” Beam said.

‘Surprised, furious, and disappointed’

Montgomery County has been told it will not receive a sufficient amount of second doses of the Moderna vaccine to cover 5,279 people scheduled for their second doses next week, said Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county commissioners.

“I was surprised, furious, and disappointed when I got this news, because we had been assured repeatedly that those second doses would be there for us, and as a consequence, we have been giving our first doses as quickly as possible, we had not wasted any doses, and we did that under the promise that second doses would be there for us,” she said.

Montgomery County officials do not yet know how many people will be rescheduled, but it will contact those affected and schedule them for a future date to receive their second doses.

Those scheduled for a first dose of the Moderna vaccine next week will instead receive the Pfizer vaccine to ensure their appointments won’t be canceled.

“We will ensure this future date is within the CDC maximum approved interval of 42 days,” Arkoosh said. “We remain hopeful that vaccine supply will increase over the next few weeks, and we will be ready to ramp up our operations to vaccinate more people as soon as more vaccines are available.”

While people can wait up to 42 days to receive their second dose, she said it’s important people do receive their second dose because the first dose only gives people some protection.

“I am watching this situation very closely. I will be in regular communication with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, and make it very, very clear to them if we have any concerns here in Montgomery County that there could be individuals that we gave the first dose to that we’re not going to be able give that second dose within that 42 days,” Arkoosh said.

People will still receive their second doses from the same provider that administered their first dose, and the state is working with providers to ensure people are rescheduled for their appointments.

The state is now working to improve communication between the state and its vaccine providers.

“The controls we have put in place not only are with reference to clearer communication, but also allowing us to all sync on the same calendar, making sure we’re all ordering aligned with Operation Warp Speed’s policies, the state’s policies and each of the provider policies,” Beam said.

“What we’re doing now is right-tracking us, and it will likely take this week, next week, and the following week to be able to put us on a more stable ground, but we are doing this all in an effort for a more transparent and predictable stable state.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal