Pa. plans to move into next vaccination phase early next month

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Medical assistant Keona Shepard holds up a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before administering it Thursday at a mass vaccination site in New Orleans.

Pennsylvania is positioned to enter the second phase of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan within weeks, a state Health Department spokesperson said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, York County is slated March 25 to expand its vaccination capabilities when WellSpan Health opens a community vaccination site, hospital officials announced.

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration on Wednesday touted progress in its vaccine rollout, which Wolf as recently as last week admitted was lacking in both speed and reach, especially within under-served communities.

"We anticipate moving to Phase 1B in early April, followed by 1C," said spokesperson Barry Ciccocioppo. "Exact timing of the transition between phases is contingent on the supply of vaccine from the federal government."

More:York County reports 135 new COVID-19 cases

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Moving into Phase 1B would significantly broaden the list of those who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

The group would include public transit workers, grocery workers, postal workers and those deemed as "essential support for houses of worship" such as clergy, according to the department's website.

Currently, vaccines are largely limited to health care workers, long-term care facility residents, those ages 65 and older, teachers and those ages 16-64 with high-risk conditions. 

“The pace of vaccinations in Pennsylvania is accelerating each day,” Wolf said in a Wednesday statement. “We have made tremendous progress, but we know we have more work to do."

As of Wednesday, vaccine providers had administered 3,840,896 total vaccine doses to state residents, according to the state Health Department. More than 1.3 million individuals are fully vaccinated.

In York County, 42,056 people had been fully vaccinated and 33,578 had been partially vaccinated as of Wednesday.

Wolf's administration has come under fire for what many have seen as a slow rollout that has also failed to reach the state's Black and brown residents.

The latter critique has been met with additional backlash because the state's racial data is significantly lacking. The race of nearly 370,000 individuals who have received doses in the state is listed as "unknown" on the Health Department website.

Local health officials also have had trouble acquiring vaccines, although access has improved, they've said.

York City officials, for example, in early February contacted the state Health Department to request 100 vaccine doses meant for city employees.

The doses in question were to be used for what York City Health Bureau Director Barbara Kovacs called a "closed pod," meaning that they would solely be used for city employees that qualified under the state's Phase 1A guidelines. 

But those vaccines were never received, and the bureau hasn't requested any since, Kovacs said.

Gov. Wolf Tom Wolf waves to an individual before addressing the media at 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

Local health centers in the past week, though, have acknowledged the progress in acquiring vaccines. As a result, they have implemented multiple initiatives to ramp up their ability to administer doses.

On March 25, WellSpan is slated to open a community vaccination site at the Crossroads Shopping Center in Manchester Township, spokesperson Ryan Coyle said.

Registration will be required for those interested in receiving a vaccination. Individuals can register using MyWellSpan or by calling the COVID-19 Hotline at 855-851-3641.

Additional details are not yet available, Coyle said, although appointments are expected to be "extremely limited," according to WellSpan's website.

Along with WellSpan's work, Family First Health last week kicked off a weekly vaccination campaign that entails opening the entire York City health center to city residents each Friday.

The move is expected to bring doses to 300 additional patients per week, said CEO Jenny Englerth.

In addition, a collaboration among the health center, York County, the York City Health Bureau and WellSpan that will allow for another 350 weekly doses is set to launch next week.

UPMC also is partnering with the Spanish American Multicultural Resource Center to host a vaccination event this Friday.

There will be 375 Moderna doses available, and the organizations plan to host additional events in the future, said Lou Rivera, founder of the resource center.

As of Thursday, there were 37,544 COVID-19 cases and 742 deaths linked to the disease in York County.

Statewide, there were 976,847 cases and 24,706 deaths.

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