Wolf's vaccine task force making progress, lawmakers say

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Pennsylvania's new COVID-19 vaccine task force has been meeting for less than two weeks, but legislative members say the group is already making strides to improve the state's struggling vaccination program.

Republican state Sen. Ryan Aument of Lancaster, one of four lawmakers in the group, said Wednesday the task force is working on a plan to improve efficiency, communication and equity in vaccine distributions.

Part of the communication improvements will be to assign a designated contact person at the state Department of Health for vaccine providers to call, he said.

"If they have questions, then they have a point of contact, they have a live person that they can communicate with," Aument said.

Pennsylvania has struggled to keep up with other states' vaccination rates, and the General Assembly is keeping the pressure on the Wolf administration to improve its numbers.

State Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster.

The state Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would allow the Pennsylvania National Guard to operate vaccine clinics in every county to assist with distribution efforts.

State Rep. Timothy O'Neal, R-Washington, introduced the bill in the House in January.

O'Neal, who is also a member of the task force, said Wednesday that if the Senate didn't make any amendments to the House bill, House Speaker Bryan Cutler would only need to sign the bill before sending it to the governor's desk.

Local efforts are also ramping up, with York County officials announcing a partnership Wednesday with WellSpan Health to set up an appointment-only vaccination site in York County.

Details about the site location and when it will be operational have not been released.

As of Tuesday, the most recently available data, Pennsylvania ranked 41st among U.S. states for its vaccination rate, with a rate of 18,599 vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The highest rate among the states was Alaska, with a rate of 32,797 vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people.

Locally, as of Wednesday in York County, more than 24,000 people had received the first dose of the vaccine, and nearly 19,000 had received both doses, the state Department of Health reported.

Statewide, about 913,000 people had received the first dose, and another 585,000 had received both doses, the state reported.

State Sen. Art Haywood, a Democrat representing parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.

Communication: Sen. Art Haywood, a Democrat representing portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, is also part of the task force.

Haywood said improving communication between the state and the vaccine providers is important, but that it's also paramount to have good communication between vaccine providers and the public.

When vaccine providers have a wait list for the vaccine, it's important for the provider to keep the people on the list informed about the progress and how far back they are in line, Haywood said.

"The providers need to know what vaccine they're getting so they have predictability of when and how much vaccine they're getting," he said, "and then the providers need to provide predictability (to the public)."

Haywood also said the state needs to improve access to Spanish-language information about the vaccine.

Supply and demand: Demand for the vaccine has far outpaced the available supply, which has complicated Pennsylvania's vaccination efforts, Aument said.

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for COVID-19 require two doses to be considered effective: an initial dose and a booster shot about three weeks later.

State Rep. Timothy O'Neal, R-Washington.

O'Neal said the task force has been looking into the recent mishap between the state and some vaccine providers that resulted in thousands of the Moderna booster shots being administered as first doses.

The group is also looking at forming subcommittees to focus on education, racial equity, economics and the senior population, he said.

Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration have been actively engaged in the process, and they've made real progress improving the vaccination program, O'Neal said.

"I was very skeptical, but Gov. Wolf himself has been an active participant in every one of the meetings we’ve had up to this point," he said.

The fourth legislator on the task force, Rep. Bridget Kosierowski, D-Lackawanna, did not respond to requests for comment.

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