EDITORIAL: Gov. Tom Wolf's administration again fails when it comes to transparency

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
Gov. Tom Wolf observes a worker at a mass vaccination site in Lancaster County.
  • Spotlight PA is requesting information on vaccine waste in Pennsylvania.
  • Gov. Tom Wolf's administration is refusing to release some of the information requested.
  • A lawmaker is set to introduce a bill compelling the Wolf administration to release the information.

Three words best describe the most consistent flaw within the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.

“Lack of transparency.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the spring of 2020, the Wolf administration has come under fire, from Democrats and Republicans alike, for its repeated unwillingness to reveal information that the public deserves to know.

He has often evaded or completely ignored questions and information requests from reporters, citizen watchdogs and lawmakers who have demanded some answers behind his administration’s decision making.

Wolf has claimed he is trying to be transparent, but the actions of his administration during the pandemic completely contradict those sentiments.

Support for lawmaker's efforts: That is why we completely endorse the efforts of a state lawmaker who wants to compel the Wolf administration to make public any details about wasted COVID-19 vaccine doses — information it has refused to release to Spotlight PA.

Pa. lawmaker wants to compel Wolf administration to release details of wasted COVID-19 vaccine doses

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom supported by several state news media organizations. Spotlight PA has done tremendous work during the pandemic to keep the state’s residents informed.

According to Spotlight PA, although vaccine providers are required to report when and why a dose of vaccine is “compromised,” the Pennsylvania Department of Health last month denied a public records request from the organization seeking documentation, citing a decades-old law that it has frequently used to shield the public from scrutinizing its pandemic response. The request did not seek any patient information.

Argall's response: In response, State Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill, said he plans to introduce legislation this month compelling the Wolf administration to make public the information that Spotlight PA has requested.

“I just think people have the right to know this information,” Argall said.

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We wholeheartedly agree.

The public deserves to know how well — or how poorly — the state’s vaccine rollout is going. The health of thousands of Pennsylvanians is at stake.

The indications appear positive: The indications are that Pennsylvania’s vaccine program, after a slow start, has rebounded. More state residents are getting the vaccine every day.

Additionally, the state’s Health Department has said just 1,589 of the more than 2.3 million doses administered as of Feb. 26 — or just 0.06% — were reported by providers as wasted, mostly due to vials broken in handling, syringe issues, such as bent or broken needles, or clients refusing after the vaccine dose was drawn.

EDITORIAL: This heat Gov. Wolf earned

Given that small number, why wouldn’t the Wolf administration release the information requested? Overall, it seems like the state is doing a decent job in limiting vaccine waste.

Citing an old law: Officials, however, declined to provide further information, such as which providers are reporting waste or the most common reasons for discarded doses. The state cited the 1955 Disease Prevention and Control Law, which gives the state broad authority to keep information on contagious diseases confidential. Allegedly, releasing those details could potentially identify individuals.

Sorry, we’re not buying that. Spotlight PA specifically did not request any patient information. The organization just wants to know more details about wasted vaccine. It’s information that the public should most definitely know.

People who are deciding whether or not to get the vaccine will want to know which providers are doing the best job on vaccine waste and which are doing the worst.

Still balking: Nevertheless, the Wolf administration is balking at releasing the information — as it has done repeatedly during the pandemic.

It’s time to change that stance and just release the requested information.

The state’s residents deserve to be informed and the governor needs to be more transparent.