Pennsylvania makes more people eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

Quamea Richards, left, and Tawanna Thomas of AMI Health, prepare for a long line of patients at a drive-up COVID-19 testing facility at the Georgian Place in Somerset, Pa., Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

More than 235,000 Pennsylvanians have been given the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, state officials said Friday.

The state also unveiled an update Friday explaining what groups will be next in line after health care workers and those in nursing homes are immunized.

And, the state Department of Health updated its vaccine distribution plan to more closely align with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most notable change is the addition of a Phase 1C, including people ages 65-74, and those 16-and-older with certain health problems, along with a variety of essential workers — those in construction, banking, transportation, and government workers.

The state’s plan gives Phase 1A priority to front-line health care workers and those who live and work in nursing homes. Phase 1B includes those over the age of 75 who aren’t in nursing homes, as well as prison staff, teachers, postal employees, first responders, clergy members and bus drivers.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine continued to decline to provide a timeline for when the state expects to shift from Phase 1A to Phase 1B. The state hasn’t yet provided a description of how it plans to immunize those in Phase 1B when it comes time to do so.

“Vaccinations are an important tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency have done a lot of hard work to facilitate a smooth, strategic vaccine rollout,” Gov. Tom Wolf said. “But most of the vaccine distribution process is controlled by the federal government and unfortunately, that means there are a lot of unknowns,” including how many vaccines the state will get and when additional vaccine shipments will arrive, he said.

While close to 240,000 people have been immunized, there are about 1 million in Phase 1A, Levine said. The federal government has provided 827,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to hospitals and nursing homes in the state, already, Levine said.

Levine said that state officials are aware that some health care workers and nursing home workers have been declining the opportunity to get vaccinated and said that she thinks the country needs a coordinated campaign to explain that getting immunized for COVID-19 is safe and necessary.

She said that comparing the number of doses administered to the number of doses provided to the state may be misleading, because there is a lag of time between when doses are given to people and when they show up in the data.

Levine said that it’s been taking about 24 hours between when COVID vaccines are administered in hospitals and when those immunizations are reflected in government reports. It’s been taking as long as 72 hours for immunizations in nursing homes to be reflected in the reports, she said.

On Monday, Levine said that there had been 135,044 doses of vaccine administered, meaning that about 100,000 doses have been administered this week. Pennsylvania received its first COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 14.

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