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WellSpan expands vaccination sites after EMTs struggled to get shots

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
WellSpan York Hospital staff on Thursday morning received the hospital's first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines.

WellSpan Health on Wednesday opened two new COVID-19 vaccination sites in York County, a move intended to provide relief to emergency service personnel, who previously were unable to be vaccinated locally.

Spokesperson Ryan Coyle declined to share where the sites would be located but said that upon their launch, the county will have three points of distribution for vaccines.

On Thursday, 17 new deaths linked to COVID-19 were reported in York County, the second-highest daily increase to date.

Before the expansion, emergency responders struggled to schedule appointments within York County to receive the first round of the vaccination.

"The availability of appointments in York now allows us to expand the group getting vaccinated as we move through Phase 1A," he said of the state's list that defines which groups should get priority.

More:OP-ED: WellSpan officials: Before our hospitals can’t care for one more person

More:WellSpan York Hospital, UPMC Memorial receive first deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine

The scheduling capacity at York Hospital was strained because, despite the hospital's size, it received the same shipment of 975 vaccine doses that the six other locations in the region received in their first shipment last month, Coyle said. 

Therefore, EMS workers could not be vaccinated without traveling to other WellSpan hospitals, given the mandated prioritization of front-line employees within the health care system.

Signs at the entrances of the WellSpan York Hospital complex highlight the continued issues with the COVID-19 pandemic, Wednesday, November 11, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Ted Hake, president of Health Transport Partners, had to travel to Gettysburg to get vaccinated, he said.

“We’ve had to travel a bit,” Hake said. “I don’t know there was ever an issue, but the York ones were tough to find,” he said, also praising WellSpan’s efforts during the pandemic.

The issue wasn't just seen in York County, said state Health Department spokesperson Rachel Kostelac.

After the initial rollout of vaccines, it became clear that access to vaccinations was difficult for eligible individuals not directly associated with health systems, she said.

That's why, on Dec. 30, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine issued an order that mandated that hospitals and other entities receiving vaccines save at least 10% of their weekly allocations to vaccinate individuals who fall into that category.

“The vaccination process will take time," Levine said. "We need Pennsylvanians, including health care personnel, to be patient as we continue to get the vaccine into the hands of the right people at the right time so we can protect against COVID-19."

As of Wednesday, 144,863 people in the state had been vaccinated with the first of two required doses, according to the department. That includes 3,205 in York County.

In general, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna in the U.S. has hit some roadblocks, The New York Times reported Monday. The U.S. has fallen well short of vaccination targets in the weeks since the first doses were delivered. 

In order to maximize the efficiency of vaccines, some top health officials, such as Moncef Slaoui, scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, have floated the idea of halving doses.

There has not been much consensus in regards to taking that step, though, with the government's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, last week saying he "would not be in favor of that."

As of noon Thursday, there had been 25,349 COVID-19 cases in York County and 474 deaths linked to the disease since the outbreak began,  the state Health Department reported.

Statewide, there were 693,087 cases and 17,179 deaths.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.