18455 DOH Corona Update

Photo by PACast Gov. Tom Wolf, via video speaks while Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine looks on from a podium during a press conference inside PEMA headquarters on Wednesday.

HARRISBURG – Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday that the state will “soon” begin offering COVID-19 vaccine to people other than the health care workers and nursing home residents and staff who were given top priority in the state’s vaccine distribution plan.

Levine said there are about 1 million people in the state’s Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution plan – health care workers and those living or working in nursing homes. She added though that the state won’t wait until that entire group has been immunized before moving to allow people in Phase 1B to get immunized. The state has been provided 827,300 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and expects to get another 138,000 doses this week, she said.

“We are having those discussions now and we anticipate moving statewide into vaccinations of (Phase) 1B soon, she said.

At least 285,671 Pennsylvanians have gotten COVID-19 vaccine doses including 21,291 health care workers who have gotten two doses and are now fully-immunized against the virus, Levine said.

The health secretary said that the number of people who’ve gotten immunized is likely higher than the total being reported by the state because the Department of Health is waiting on a report from the pharmacy chain CVS to update the number of nursing home residents and staff that the pharmacy’s staff have immunized.

Pennsylvania just unveiled an updated vaccine distribution plan on Friday. Levine said the changes were made to align the state’s plan with recommendations 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.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said the state shouldn’t be lumping elected officials and appointed state officials in with those in the 1C group.

“Given the federal recommendation is silent on when government officials should receive the COVID-19 vaccine, I request that Pennsylvania’s distribution plan remove statewide elected officials, members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and appointed state officials from Phase 1C” unless they meet the criteria for getting a vaccine for another reason, such as by age or due to a medical condition, Benninghoff said in a letter to Levine.

“We should not be advanced in line to receive this life-saving vaccine at a time when supplies remain limited,” he said.

Even before the state officially begins to offer the vaccine to those in the state’s Phase 1B state of the vaccine distribution plan – including seniors over the age of 75 living outside nursing homes, as well as teachers, prison workers and day care staff – Levine said she fully supports any move to make vaccine available to non-health care workers and those outside nursing homes, if the operators of a facility that have received vaccine realize they have more than they need.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to put vaccine back on the shelf,” she said. “We need to do better to get the vaccine in arms.”

Levine said she was unaware of any specific incidents when facilities had to discard unused vaccine doses. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week announced that the state was revising its vaccine distribution plan to make vaccine doses available to more people after reports that vaccine doses had been wasted. In New York, while health care workers remain the main priority, adults over the age of 75 could begin making reservations to get vaccinated on Monday.

Under Cuomo’s plan, 1,200 pharmacies are scheduled to begin offering COVID immunizations. In addition, starting Wednesday, 20 mass vaccination clinics will begin offering immunizations.

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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