HARRISBURG — Two physicians' groups unleashed criticism Friday against Gov. Tom Wolf's proposal to change the state's vaccine distribution process.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said Friday that the state would distribute more vaccines through hospitals, pharmacies, county health departments and clinics instead of primary care doctors' offices.

In a joint release issued Friday night, the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians, Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association and the American College of Physicians Pennsylvania Chapter, said they were "deeply troubled" by the changes in vaccine distribution.

"Without sound justification and demonstrating a lack of understanding in the way most Pennsylvanians receive their health care, the Administration is making a woeful mistake by cutting out primary care physicians as eligible providers," the statement read in part.

The release went on to say that the state instituted the order without consulting physician organizations like the three that signed on to the statement.

Friday's state order also calls on vaccine clinics to accommodate senior citizens who may not have internet access by establishing telephone-based registration procedures by Feb. 19, and to distribute 80% of vaccine doses they receive in the first week.

Beam said the Department of Health had decided that, with the state shifting away from immunizing health-care providers to senior citizens and people with co-morbidities, they wanted to move more vaccines to organizations that have proven an ability to deliver doses to those populations.

In their statement Friday, the physicians' organizations called on the Department of Health and the governor to rescind the order.

"The new order creates yet another hurdle for a demographic who is already struggling with navigating the vaccine distribution landscape," the joint statement read.

1.5 million vaccines

Pennsylvania Department of Health reported Saturday that providers had given more than 1.5 million vaccines to state residents.

That includes 1,210,194 first vaccinations and 378,567 second vaccinations administered through Feb. 14, out of 2.4 million total doses. The state has given 84% of its allocated first vaccinations, 37% of its allocated second vaccinations and 65% of its total allocated vaccine doses.

By the numbers

National daily COVID-19 cases continued to decline over the weekend, with 88,913 reported Friday, according to figures provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The seven-day rolling average for new cases fell to 93,774 per day, dropping below 100,000 for the first time since early November. That figure peaked Jan. 11 at 248,367 and was as high as 236,329 on Jan. 14 before beginning the decline.

However, deaths nationally remained high, with 5,520 reported fatalities — second only to 6,489 deaths on April 15 for the entire pandemic — on Friday. Except for a one-day dip to 2,784 Thursday, the nation has been averaging more than 3,000 deaths a day since Jan. 9.

Figures for Pennsylvania and Mercer County continued to ease over the weekend. State figures peaked around Dec. 10 for new cases, followed by deaths about Dec. 24. In Mercer County, the case peak fell about Dec. 4, with fatality peaks in the few days following and preceding Dec. 11 and 21.

Hospital readiness

The Department of Health reported that 2,348 COVID-19 patients were in hospital care, with 503 in intensive care units and 263 using ventilators.

Since Wednesday, hospital admissions and ventilator use have declined by 12.6% and intensive care demand has fallen 6.5%

The 14-day rolling average for hospitalizations is at 2,886.1 per day and daily ventilator use has been 328.9. The number of available ICU beds has averaged at 754.6 per day, continuing a steady increase over the last month.

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