County Health Department rushes to get COVID-19 vaccine to residents02/17/2021 11:30AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
In early February, the Chester County Health Department
requested 5,000 first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from the
Pennsylvania Department of Health that it had planned to administer over a
given week at its three vaccination sites: the Government Services Center in
West Chester, the Kennett Square Fire Company’s Red Clay Room, and West Chester
University’s Sturzebecker Health Sciences Center.
They received none of them.
The department did, however, receive 3,200 second doses that were subsequently given out, but for the department and vaccinators like them throughout the commonwealth who have been charged with the great responsibility of vaccinating their residents, it was a similar chapter in the same story, and the story is this:
Since Dec. 17, 2020, soon after the state began receiving shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 and Moderna vaccines, the Chester County health Department has requested nearly 51,000 doses. To date, the department has received just half of what they have requested.
News of the state’s failure to provide faster delivery of the vaccine to its residents has not just been limited to Chester County, but has become a national story. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) state-by-state tracking system for vaccinations, Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom in terms of the percentage of distributed vaccines – with 68 percent of doses administered. To date, a little more than 2.6 million doses had been distributed throughout the state, but only 1.8 million doses had been administered. In contrast, West Virginia and New Mexico have administered 98 percent of the vaccines they have received, while nationwide, 75 percent of the more than 70 million vaccinations delivered have been administered.
Over the past several weeks, everyone from elected officials to health experts in Pennsylvania have rattled off several factors that they feel have contributed to the slow roll out of vaccines in the state. Some have criticized the state for its patchwork system of distribution, its complicated guidelines and the poor job it has done in communicating who gets what and when and where.
Republican lawmakers have pointed the finger of blame at Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s health department, saying they haven’t done a good job in coming up with realistic expectations for the number of doses needed. Wolf has fired back, pointing to the ineffectiveness of the Trump administration in planning for the proper execution of a vaccination plan.
As the bickering continues, Pennsylvania continues to pursue a race to save itself against the ravages of a pandemic, and when measured against the reality of COVID-19-realted statistics and the desperate urgency to counter it, it appears to be falling behind:
· As of Feb. 13, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed there were 4,088 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 892,344.
· On Feb. 12, there were 113 new deaths identified by the Pennsylvania death registry, reported for a total of 23,072 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
· There are 2,548 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, and of that number, 496 patients are in the intensive care unit with COVID-19. Most of the patients hospitalized are ages 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older.
· The trend in the 14-day moving average number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by nearly 2,600 since the end of September.
· Statewide percent positivity for the week of Feb. 5 – Feb. 11 stood at 8 percent.
Planning accordingly, week to week
In the face of these looming numbers -- exacerbated by the state’s slow efforts to roll out a speedier vaccination plan -- the Chester County Health Department has been balancing demand and supply with proper pre-planning.
“We’re operating week by week, and we have continued to plan staffing, ordering and the administration of the vaccine, accordingly,” said Jeanne E. Franklin, Chester County’s health director. “We knew there were going to be intricacies around the availability of first doses, moving into second doses and having to do both at the same time.
“We never got into trying to plan more than a one-week out [inventory], because we did not have a set schedule or guarantee on the arrival of the inventory.”
At the current level of vaccine doses received by the department, it estimates that an average of 4,380 people in Phase 1A will receive the vaccine each week, and as availability increases, so too will the number of people that will be vaccinated.
“I have a fabulous team,” she said. “They have set this up to be able to operate in an expand-and-collapse scenario. We know how many vaccinators we will need at every site. We know how many people we can have waiting in our observation rooms at any given time. If we know we will need to use ten vaccinators at a site, but the inventory we receive only supports five, we will staff that site with five vaccinators, and we get every one of those does into the arms of those who need it.”
County, federal and state assistance
While the measure of its vaccination roll-out is contingent upon the state’s Department of Health, the Chester County Health Department is working with the Chester County Commissioners to lobby the state for more doses. It is also adding to, and improving upon services and programs, including personalized vaccine appointments that are password-protected, and contracts signed for more vaccine clinic locations across the county that will open as more vaccine doses are delivered.
In addition, it will increase its call center capabilities – in English and Spanish – to answer questions, pre-register for the vaccine, and schedule appointments when internet booking isn’t an option.
Help is also coming on the federal and state levels, as well.
In an effort to carry on President Biden’s goal of
administering 100 vaccine doses in the first 100 days of his administration, plans
call for additional efforts to eliminate the bottlenecks of delays, in order to
be able to protect 300 million Americans. Biden announced on Feb. 11 that the
U.S. had secured contractual commitments from Moderna and Pfizer to deliver 600
million doses of their vaccines by the end of July.
On Feb. 12, acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam issued an order that directs vaccine providers’ administration of COVID-19 vaccines to ensure that Pennsylvanians are vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The order includes several components: At a minimum, vaccine providers must administer 80 percent of their first doses of vaccine received within seven days of receipt of those doses. Further, providers giving a two-dose vaccine shall provide the COVID-19 vaccine reminder card with a date for a return appointment for the second dose of vaccine.
In addition, vaccine providers giving a two-dose vaccine must make every appropriate effort to ensure available appointments for second doses, including, but not limited to, designating appointment times for second doses or scheduling second doses at the time of first dose administration, or both.
As a means to gather all of the major players in the state’s effort to provide the vaccine, the Wolf administration recently announced that it is establishing a joint task force with members from each legislative caucus in order to share vaccine information, communicate issues and form solutions.
In the coming weeks, Franklin said that the county’s health department will continue to plan for its operations at their three sites; explore the possibility of opening up additional vaccination sites throughout the county; identify populations whose intentions to receive vaccinations may be hampered because of immobility or lack of transportation; and develop partnerships with county agencies who can help the department get the vaccinations to these populations.
Perhaps the most crucial job for the department in the coming weeks and months, Franklin said, will be to continue to alleviate the fear and concern of county residents, who believe that in the wake of the state’s bureaucracy in disseminating the vaccine throughout the state, they will be passed by.
“To those people, I tell them that number one, they are not being passed by, and number two, that I feel their frustration,” she said. “At this point, while I understand and hear and frankly apologize for their frustration, concern and worry, we do have to ask for more patience.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
Get informed about your COVID-19 Vaccination
· The Chester County Health Department is currently holding three COVID-19 vaccine clinics: at the Government Services Center in West Chester, the Kennett Square Fire Company’s Red Clay Room and the Sturzebecker Health Sciences Center at West Chester University.
· Additional vaccine sites have been secured throughout the county, and will be opened as vaccine dose amounts sent to the Chester County Health Department increase.
· The Chester County Health Department is currently administering the Moderna vaccine, which is approved for use in individuals age 18 and older. The Health Department cannot administer the vaccine to anyone ages 16-17 at this time.
· In addition to the Chester County Health Department, some hospitals and pharmacies in Chester County are receiving vaccine from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. You can find these locations listed on the Pennsylvania Department of Health vaccine provider map, at www.healthpa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus.
· Individuals who live and work in Chester County can now pre-register for the COVID-19 vaccine by completing a form found on the Chester County Health Department’s COVID-19 web page: chesco.org/covidvaccine.
· Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Pennsylvania Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258, or visit www.pa.gov/guides/get-vaccinated/