Department of Health: Vaccine providers must hit benchmarks

Pennsylvania health officials said Friday vaccine providers must hit new administration benchmarks or risk a cut to their weekly supply.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam told reporters that providers must administer 80% of their supply as first doses to residents covered under vaccination Phase 1A; and they must do it within seven days of receiving the vaccine.

The idea, Beam said, is to funnel doses to providers with the ability to immunize people faster. Allocations to primary care physicians and other small providers will shrink as the state’s vaccination plan turns from health care workers to other subtypes covered under Phase 1A. That phase includes residents 65 or older or those living with a chronic condition exacerbated by COVID-19.

READ: COVID-19 vaccine: Shortages and chaotic registration undermine immunizations

“I understand how frustrating the current vaccine process can seem; and we have heard from many Pennsylvanians that are struggling to schedule an appointment,” she said. “As there is very limited COVID-19 vaccine supply compared to demand, every possible effort must be made so that the vaccine received in the commonwealth is effectively administered.”

Vaccine providers must hit benchmarks
Surgical ICU Nurse Madison Myers receives the COVID-19 vaccine at WellSpan Surgery & Rehabilitation Hospital in York.

The department’s order also mandates that providers schedule appointments both online and over the phone; instead of continually directing eligible residents to a website that many may find challenging to use.

The department has not included a centralized registration system in its plan, however. That’s a tool many providers say would streamline the process. But most providers prefer to use their own scheduling systems, Beam said.

“We should allow them to utilize that technology,” she said.

READ: Demand strong for vaccine

Vaccine availability, and distribution

Pennsylvania received approximately 175,000 doses of both COVID-19 vaccines this week. Providers have administered 1.6 million of the 2.6 million doses its received since mid-December. Just over 3% of the state’s 12.7 million residents have been fully immunized. Of those, nearly 4 million fall into Phase 1A alone. The statistics rank Pennsylvania near the bottom of the pack in terms of vaccine administration across the country.

READ: Local nursing homes get vaccine

President Joe Biden’s administration increased state allocations 20% since taking office last month. It’s part of his effort to vaccinate 100 million Americans in 100 days.

The promise, as well as ramped up manufacturing efforts and pending FDA approval for two more vaccines, means the state’s general public could see appointments open to them this summer, Beam said. Until then, supply will remain the state’s chief “limiting factor;” and that wouldn’t be eased by a waitlist or centralized registration system.

Rep. Valerie Gaydos, R-Moon Township, agreed that a waitlist seemed impractical given the constrained supply. He said that doesn’t excuse the administration’s rollout, however.

“The lack of clarity and consistency regarding the implementation of this plan from the Wolf administration is inexcusable,” she said. “Instead of taking responsibility, Gov. Tom Wolf passes blame to the state Legislature and to the federal government; telling the public to look elsewhere for answers, instead of providing the real time data and facts.”

Christen Smith

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.