COVID-19 vaccinations begin
COVID-19 vaccinations will begin across Pennsylvania’s nursing homes and long-term care facilities on Dec. 28, the Department of Health confirmed Thursday. That follows on the heels of vaccination of health care workers that began this week.
The first shots for local health care workers at Chambersburg, Waynesboro and Gettysburg began Friday. Hundreds of WellSpan Health front-line workers are expected to get their first dose of the vaccine before the weekend is over.
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said the state, through partnerships with Walgreens and CVS, will begin vaccinating residents of these facilities; after the successful rollout of a massive effort to immunize health care workers launched Monday. How quickly the state cycles through the rest of its plan is uncertain, for now.
“It very much depends upon the production and manufacturing capabilities of pharmaceutical companies; and how many (doses of vaccine) we get,” Levine said.
Virus rampant in nursing homes, personal care facilities
Over 48,000 residents Pennsylvania’s 2,000-plus nursing homes and licensed personal care facilities have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 7,800 have died, comprising two-thirds of the state’s total virus-related fatalities. Another 8,400 workers have also become infected, according to the Department of Health.
The virus’s lethality in nursing homes remains the subject of intense scrutiny after DOH advised facilities to readmit recovered COVID-19 patients. Levine said in June that this guidance, handed down from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only applied to a “few” cases. Those “were sent to rehab facilities that had the full ability to take care of them because we had to decompress the hospitals.”
Otherwise, the department said the majority of the outbreaks seen in senior living facilities were “unwittingly” transmitted by “brave, but unfortunately asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic staff.”
Even so, nursing homes adopted strict guidelines about testing, quarantining and visitor policies as deaths within the population soared.
Moderna vaccine could speed up vaccination program
Levine said Thursday that shipments of the “more stable” Moderna vaccine that just received FDA approval could speed up its immunization program. Pennsylvania received just under 100,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine earlier this week. That vaccine was distributed to 83 hospitals in 66 counties. Those had the capability to store the product at -70 degrees Celsius. Philadelphia County anticipates receiving a shipment of 15,000 vaccines for several prioritized hospitals throughout the city.
So far, Levine said, more than 1,200 health care workers have been vaccinated. Phase 1B of the state plan includes other front line workers and residents with high-risk conditions. Phase two expands to other vulnerable populations and phase three targets the general public.
The state will work with health care providers and pharmacies to get residents immunized, Levine said.health, Vaccine clinics will also be available, though she warned enough doses likely won’t be available until spring, at the earliest.
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.