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Chester County Press

'We still have not felt the effects in Chester County'

03/16/2021 04:51PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

Chester County stakeholders in the fight to vaccinate its residents against COVID-19 are giving notice to state officials about the amount of vaccines it has been making available in the county.

It’s not enough, and they have had enough.

In a statement released on March 12, County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michele Kichline issued a strong rebuke of the state’s distribution methods of the virus vaccine, stating that while they acknowledge that the pace of vaccinations across the commonwealth is on the rise, “we still have not felt the effects in Chester County, and we know our residents are rightfully frustrated,” the statement read. “Our vaccine supply has been limited when compared with the capabilities of our Health Department to set up clinics and schedule vaccines across the whole of the County.”

To date, the Chester County Health Department has requested 87,260 doses of the vaccine from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. In a population of 524,989 – the 7th highest-populated county in the state – the department has received only 48,020 doses.

The county received 10,050 vaccine doses from the state’s health department last week, and of that number, 9,140 were sent to the Chester County Health Department -- 6,800 Moderna first and second doses and 2,340 Pfizer first doses. These represent woefully small numbers, given that the department said it has the capability to distribute as many as 25,000 does in a week with a few weeks’ notice. 

The Commissioners’ statement shines a bit of reality to the “good news” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf shared in a release issued on March 12. In it, he praised the state’s COVID-19 vaccination roll out, specifically pointing to the decision by the state’s COVID-19 Task Force to secure 94,600 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines for the state’s educators, school staff and early childhood educators by March 28, as well as the progress the state is making on vaccinating Pennsylvanians in the Phase 1A stage.

Since the state order issued last month that directed vaccine providers to administer COVID-19 vaccines to ensure quick and efficient vaccinations, the state’s hospital systems now have enough vaccine to partner with counties to create county vaccination sites, the statement read, and the state has seen impressive improvements in its vaccine infrastructure and administration rates.

“Our 1A population contains some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and it is crucial that these individuals get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Wolf said. “The Secretary of Health will also be issuing an Order that will require vaccine providers to make best efforts to schedule all 1A appointments by the end of the month. To assist them in achieving this goal, we will be providing greater visibility into their future allocations. This will allow them to schedule appointments with confidence in having sufficient supply to keep those appointments.”

County not receiving news of vaccine availability

These hopeful aspirations and projections of vaccine availability are not being felt in Chester County, the Commissioners said.

“We have not been given the two-to-three-week advance notice of vaccine availability as the Governor stated in his news conference, and as such have only scheduled appointments on a week-by-week basis to match our supply,” the statement continued. “This keeps us from having to cancel and reschedule appointments if we do not receive the vaccine from the state to honor those appointments.”

From the time vaccinations were first administered in the county, 49,297 residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 43,315 have received their second dose -- numbers that include distribution by the county’s health department, hospitals and pharmacies. Of the total, 25,007 residents have received first dose of the vaccine from the health department, and 15,167 people have received their second dose from the health department.

Gov. Wolf stated that the state’s counties will be encouraged to work within their region to submit a proposal for a mass vaccination clinic, community vaccination clinics, mobile clinics or other strategy in the coming weeks, in order to vaccinate their region’s currently eligible individuals. The Task Force will review proposals and determine those that best demonstrate an ability to support a mass vaccination clinic.

“We know that county leaders and emergency management organizations have been working hard to put plans in place and make preparations for vaccination sites in their communities,” Gov. Wolf said. “We will be working closely with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to create plans for these regional vaccine clinics.

Using the Johnson & Johnson supply to support regionally planned and facilitated mass vaccination sites, as well as quickly completing vaccine missions for critical frontline workers, means more “shots in arms,” Gov. Wolf said, while also helping seniors secure appointments and their vaccines ahead of the broader population.

“With 200,000 Johnson & Johnson weekly doses coming to Pennsylvania starting the week of March 28 and our supply of Moderna and Pfizer continuing to increase weekly, today’s announcement is another special initiative that again is a step in the right direction to not only protect our most vulnerable population but also speed up our vaccine rollout,” he said. “Through the regional vaccination clinics, we will achieve greater access for seniors who have been struggling to find available doses and a more equitable distribution by allowing communities to direct doses to their most vulnerable residents and in April we will also be able to target our frontline, essential workers who have had no choice but to continue serving our commonwealth amidst this pandemic.”

Gov. Wolf explained that the Task Force is still working through the details of these next special initiatives and will announce more information before additional Johnson & Johnson allocations become available on March 28.

Waiting on the state

The Chester County Health Department also issued a statement on March 12, saying that while it supports Gov. Wolf’s plan to accelerate the state’s vaccine rollout plan, it is eager to accelerate the number of people it vaccinates, but awaits additional data from the state before it can do so.

“We have contracted with venues, and invested in staffing and mobile units to vaccinate upwards of 25,000 people a week with just two weeks’ notice, and 33,000 people a week with four weeks’ notice,” the department’s statement read. “We still need to be told what quantity of vaccine we will receive, and when, to know how many clinics to open and staff, and how many appointments to schedule for those clinics. “ 

The Commissioners echoed the concerns of the health department.

“We can certainly open up appointments by March 28th, per the Governor’s plan, but there are many questions that require answers, and quickly, if we are to accurately schedule appointments for everyone in Phase 1A by that date,” the Commissioners’ statement continued. “To begin with, we need to hear from the state how many vaccines we can schedule for beginning March 22.

“If the state does, in fact, send us greater supply, we are definitely prepared to open additional sites where Chester County residents can get vaccinated.” 

Meanwhile, the state’s trend in the 14-day moving average number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 per day is about 4,500 lower than it was at its peak on Dec. 25, 2020, and also below what it was at the height of its spring peak on May 3, 2020.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].

COVID-19 vaccination updates from the Chester County Health Department

·  Starting Monday, March 12, the department will be holding vaccine clinics at West Chester University’s Sturzebecker Health Sciences Center, the Kennett Square Fire Company’s Red Clay Room and The Kimberton Fire Company

· Vaccination clinics for seniors will be held at the Phoenixville Senior Center, the Brandywine Valley Active Aging Center (formerly Coatesville Senior Center) and the Oxford Area Senior Center 

·  All Chester County Health Department COVID-19 vaccine clinics are by appointment only, and individuals are contacted by the Health Department when they are next in the registration list “line” to schedule the vaccine. 

·  The department continues to schedule those people who have pre-registered for the vaccine on or before Jan. 17, 2021.

·  The Chester County Health Department COVID-19 Call Center can be reached by calling 610-344-6225, and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Information is supplied in both English and Spanish.