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Mix-up causes Pa. vaccine shortage

Michael Rubinkam
The Associated Press

Pennsylvania is facing a temporary shortage of booster shots of the Moderna vaccine because providers inadvertently used them as first doses.

The error could mean more than 100,000 people will need appointments rescheduled, state health officials said Wednesday.

About 30,000 to 60,000 appointments for the COVID-19 booster shot will need to be pushed back by one or two weeks, said Alison Beam, the state’s acting health secretary. Delivery of another 30,000 to 55,000 initial doses of the Moderna vaccine will need to be delayed, as well, as officials scramble to get Pennsylvania back on track.

The second-dose shortage does not affect the Pfizer vaccine.

“People need to be able to know that they’re going to get their second-dose shots” in a timely fashion, even if their appointments need to be delayed, Beam said at a news conference.

Second doses of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are typically administered 21 and 28 days apart, respectively, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its guidance to allow the second dose to be  delayed up to six weeks past the initial dose.

Delivery issues: Pennsylvania has been holding second doses in reserve to ensure they will be available for residents who have gotten the initial shot, but Beam said a “structural issue” with vaccine deliveries emerged at the beginning of January and then festered for weeks.

Inconsistent vaccine supply, confusion about deliveries and a lack of clear communication between the Health Department and vaccine providers created a “perfect storm,” Beam said.

This week, vaccine providers requested 200,000 second doses of the Moderna vaccine, which approximates the total amount Pennsylvania was allocated by the federal government for first and second doses.

Beam refused to identify the providers that have been giving vaccine doses intended to be used as booster shots as first doses, declaring: “We’re not here to have blame placed anywhere.” She promised the underlying issues that led to the shortage would be resolved by early March.

Other woes: The booster shortage added to Pennsylvania’s vaccine woes.

Though 1.3 million residents have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, the state ranks near the bottom nationally in how efficiently it is vaccinating its population. It is 46th among the states in the number of shots administered per 100,000 people, and 47th by percentage of allocated doses that have been given, according to the latest CDC data.

Last week, Beam announced a plan to dramatically cut the number of providers that are administering the vaccine so that more doses go to those that are quickly using their weekly allotments.

Under her order, hospitals, pharmacies and other providers must administer at least 80% of their allotment of first doses of the vaccines within a week of getting them.

Pennsylvania was allocated more than 183,000 first doses this week, though some shipments have been delayed because of severe weather, forcing the cancellation of numerous clinics around the state.

Separately, the fed­eral government is sending thousands of doses directly to Rite Aid and Topco stores in Pennsylvania. Philadelphia gets its own supply directly from the federal government.