HARRISBURG — As many as 115,000 people will have their COVID-19 vaccine appointments delayed over revelations that over the last month too many doses intended to serve as second shots for residents had been mistakenly used as first doses.
As a result, the number of requests for second doses of the Moderna vaccine has outstripped the available supply, acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said.
This week, the state received requests for 200,000 second doses of Moderna, which is equivalent to the total number of Moderna vaccine doses allocated to the state, including both those intended to serve as first and second doses, Beam said.
To adjust, between 30,000 and 60,000 people who have already received their first shots of the COVID-19 vaccine will have their second dose appointments delayed a week or two, Beam said. Another 30,000 to 55,0000 doses intended as first doses will be diverted to fill the gap, she said.
“We are taking immediate action to remedy the situation and are committed to ensuring that second doses are available,” Beam said.
The revelation comes after weeks of criticism over the state’s effort to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine compared to other states, U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-Cambria County said.
“This rollout, which has been plagued by misjudgments and miscommunications that hit vulnerable Pennsylvanians the hardest, has suffered another devastating blow,” Joyce said.
“Already, I have heard from hundreds of eligible Pennsylvanians, the majority of whom reside in rural communities, who are pleading for help to find an available vaccine dose. With today’s setback, I fear that many of these individuals will have to reschedule their existing appointments or continue their harrowing search with added difficulty,” he said.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Beam repeatedly refused to identify which vaccine providers or how many providers had mistakenly given out second-dose shots to people receiving their first doses.
She said the department didn’t want to “place blame.”
Beam said doses state officials intended to serve as second doses have been getting distributed as first doses since early in January and the problem compounded until this week when it became clear that the state had to move to ensure that there will be second doses available for everyone who gets the initial shot.
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two shots in order for the individual to be considered fully-immunized. A Johnson & Johnson vaccine that could be approved later this month only requires one shot.
Beam said that U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines allow for the second dose to be administered any time between 21 days and 42 days after the initial shot. Under the state’s new plan, people who have their second dose appointments delayed will still get their second shots within the 42 days allowed by the CDC guidance, she said.
Beam said that the Moderna vaccine doses are the same whether they are used for the first dose or the second dose. As a result, an individual who was mistakenly provided the first dose from the allocation that state officials had intended to serve as second shots will still be able to get fully-immunized in two doses.
Through Monday, 1.7 million doses of vaccine have been administered in Pennsylvania -- including 1.6 million provided as first doses and 421,640 provided as second dose shots.
Beam said the strategy to respond to the snafu was developed with members of a new vaccine task force that includes members of the General Assembly.
“This second dose issue was the first major problem addressed by this task force and we have demonstrated that we are able to respond in real-time and in a bipartisan manner,” said Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster County, Senate Republican Caucus Task Force member.