Thursday update: One new COVID-19 death reported in York County

Wolf in York City: Vaccine rollout could be 'better'

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Gov. Tom Wolf elbow bumps York City School District Superintendent Dr. Andrea Berry during a tour visit to Family First Health in York City, Thursday, March 11, 2021. Gov. Wolf praised the health center for their diligence during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as for their efforts to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the members of the eligible and sometimes vulnerable members of the community. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday the state's rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is in need of improvement. 

Wolf's remarks came during a visit to Family First Health in York City.

A shortage of available vaccines, he said, was the primary problem in the race to put needles into arms, but he also said the state has no clear path forward to improve distribution in terms of speed or equity.

"I want to do things to make the rollout faster," Wolf said. "I want to do a better job. I just don't have a whole list of specific things. We keep trying new things every day. And we'll keep trying."

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Wolf noted that supply is severely lagging. This past week, he said, the demand for first doses of vaccines doubled what the state had received from drug suppliers.

But supply shortages are a nationwide issue and most states have vaccinated significantly higher percentages of their populations than Pennsylvania.  

With 19.3% of its population partially vaccinated, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the country, according to The Washington Post's vaccination tracker. The state  ranks 44th for percent of the population that is fully vaccinated, coming in at 9.1%.

From left, Vice President of Medical Services Asceline Go, and CEO Jennifer Englerth, both of Family First Health, talk with Gov. Tom Wolf during a visit to Family First Health in York City, Thursday, March 11, 2021. Gov. Wolf praised the health center for their diligence during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as for their efforts to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the members of the eligible and sometimes vulnerable members of the community. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In that same time frame, however, the state has fallen in the top 10 in terms of growth. The inoculation rate in the state has increased by 32%, which ranks ninth in the country, according to The Washington Post

At the local level, officials also are working to ramp up vaccination efforts.

York County as of Thursday had 32,936 of its residents fully vaccinated, which ranks ninth in the state by total vaccinations. 

In addition, there had been another 31,048 who had received their first dose. That ranks 10th in the state.

In hopes to bolster those numbers, Family First Health on Friday will open its entire facility for vaccinations and will continue to do so every Friday. The move is expected to bring doses to 300 additional patients per week, said CEO Jenny Englerth.

In addition, Englerth teased a collaboration with the county, York City Health Bureau and WellSpan that will allow for another 350 weekly doses beginning  March 23, she said.

The partnerships will "significantly increase vaccine access in a trusted and known environment,” she said.

The vaccine rollout is  slowly improving in the county, said Ryan Coyle, spokesperson for WellSpan Health.

The health system, which runs 22 vaccination sites in the region, is now administering more than 15,000 doses each week. That's up from the roughly 10,000 weekly doses last month, and a significant hike since the few hundred doses that WellSpan administered each week in December.

Still, though, Coyle reiterated that the supply chain remains a roadblock.

For example, York County has to wait until late March or early April to open the mass vaccination site that is being made possible through a partnership with WellSpan.

And those tentative dates still depend on whether supply can keep up.

“It’ll obviously get more shots into more arms,” he said. “And that’s ultimately the goal. Our approach here with these larger sites and collaborating with the county (is that) when more supply becomes available, we can have an operation that can quickly ramp up its capacity.”

Gov. Tom Wolf visits Family First Health in York City, Thursday, March 11, 2021. Gov. Wolf praised the health center for their diligence during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as for their efforts to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the members of the eligible and sometimes vulnerable members of the community. Dawn J. Sagert photo

While Wolf on Thursday  mentioned ensuring certain demographics don't benefit more than others in vaccine distribution, the issue is tricky because racial data is missing for a significant portion of the totals on the state Health Department website.

In York County, for example, 21,817 people, or 66%, of those who are fully vaccinated are white. In addition, 24,432, or 79%, of those who are partially vaccinated are white.

However, more than 5,000 individuals' races are listed as "unknown."

At the state level, 594,136, or 56%, of the 1 million fully vaccinated patients are white.  In addition, 749,538, or 67%, of the 1.1 million patients who are partially vaccinated are white.

Statewide, the races of more than 300,000 individuals are listed as "unknown." 

“It’s important to be as accurate as you can because that helps us to do targeted outreach and education to populations that may need to get more education about either the testing or the results,” Barbara Kovacs, director of the York City Bureau of Health, told Spotlight PA on Tuesday.

Another factor that could lead to unequal distribution is the fact the state remains in Phase 1A of its vaccination campaign.

That limits vaccinations mostly to health care workers, long-term care facility residents, those ages 65 and older and those ages 16-64 with high-risk conditions.

Last week, though, Wolf announced that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be used to vaccinate teachers and other school staff.

Wolf said Thursday it is unclear when the state would be able to enter Phase 1B, which would expand the list of those who are eligible to be  vaccinated to manufacturing workers, public transit workers and more.

"Our priority is to work through all the groups in 1A as quickly as possible, so that the most vulnerable parts of the population will be protected from COVID-19," Wolf said.

At the federal level, President Joe Biden's administration is working to funnel more vaccines into states' health systems, with the goal of fully vaccinating every U.S. adult by the end of May.

Biden on Wednesday announced  plans to order another 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, Politico reported. 

The company has already supplied roughly 4 million doses to the U.S. government.

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