HARRISBURG — The state Department of Health is moving to direct COVID-19 vaccine to providers that have demonstrated they can quickly put doses in arms to try to accelerate the state’s rollout of vaccine doses, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said Friday.
Beam said the move will shift more doses to hospitals, pharmacies, county health departments and clinics rather than providing them to primary care doctors’ offices.
In addition, the state is now ordering vaccine providers to offer appointment reservation systems that ensure that people who use a telephone can talk to an operator to determine if an appointment is available.
“I understand how frustrating the current vaccine process can seem and we have heard from many Pennsylvanians that are struggling to schedule an appointment,” Beam 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. To achieve this goal, I am issuing an order outlining appropriate steps and recognized best practices to ensure vaccine providers are effectively meeting the goal of vaccinating Pennsylvanians and creating a healthy Pennsylvania for all.”
Under the new order, vaccine providers must distribute 80% of the doses they receive within the first week.
Beam said that with a shift to get the vaccine to locations that can quickly distribute it, the state will likely reduce the number of providers getting vaccine doses from 1,700 to 200 or 300.
This comes as 1.5 million vaccine doses have been administered in the state.
About 62% of the doses provided to the state have been administered. But that includes doses reserved for second shots for people who’ve already received an initial dose, said Lindsey Maudlin, senior advisor for the Department of Health.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern from vaccine providers about getting the second dose of vaccine,” Mauldin said. “Anyone who gets the first dose today, there will be a second dose delivered in time for that second appointment,” she said.
Even so, almost 1 in 5 — about 260,000 doses — of the doses allocated to serve as initial doses have not yet been administered.
That’s more a week’s allocation. The state received 175,165 first doses this week, Mauldin said.
Beam said that some of the facilities that had gotten vaccine doses were more useful when the state was focusing on immunizing health care workers. But now that the focus is turning toward immunizing senior citizens and those with medical conditions that place them at risk of falling seriously ill from COVID-19, the state wants to provide more doses to the places that can best deliver vaccine doses to those populations.
The move to require vaccine providers to offer a phone option for the public leading to a live operator is intended to respond to the “frustration” of people who’ve been struggling to navigate reservation websites, Beam said.
Vaccine providers have until Feb. 19 to get their phone reservation system in line with the new order, she said.