Vaccine providers across the state should have all appointments for people in Phase 1A scheduled by the end of the month, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said in a new order Monday.
The order amends a previous one from February, adding a subsection requiring providers to “use best efforts” to schedule appointments for all Phase 1A individuals by March 31. The amendment tells providers to contact “every individual for whom it has contact information” by phone or email and offer appointments. Providers can schedule appointments “as far into the future as necessary to accommodate all Phase 1A individuals” requesting them. It also requires vaccine providers to make appointments with patients outside their current patient network.
Phase 1A includes health care workers, long-term care residents, anyone over the age of 65 and those aged 16 to 64 with certain health conditions.
“This order requires vaccine providers to use all reasonable efforts to meet this goal by the end of the month,” Beam said in a statement. “Providers also are encouraged to consider other barriers to vaccination, such as transportation issues, and tackle those that our most vulnerable can most easily access the vaccine.”
Beam said providers were informed of new requirements Monday and Tuesday. The order follows comments last week from Gov. Tom Wolf, in which he said all Phase 1A residents who want them will have appointments in the next two weeks.
“This aggressive plan is designed to meet the goals outlined Friday by Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the Covid-19 Vaccine Task Force to get everyone in Phase 1A scheduled, vaccinate workers in targeted industries and then move to have everyone who wishes to be vaccinated eligible by May 1,” Beam said, referencing President Joe Biden’s goal of making every American adult eligible for vaccine by that date.
Individuals in Pennsylvania’s Phase 1A have struggled with vaccine access from the beginning of the rollout, often due to a lack of supply to meet the needs of the broad group of eligible people. Long waiting lists – some with tens of thousands of names – have become commonplace at community pharmacies. Appointments for mass vaccination clinics held by many of the region’s major providers are filled within minutes.
Beam asked providers to “think through an equity lens” to make the vaccine more accessible for different populations. She also asked that they consider more mobile clinic options.
The Department of Health will be updating vaccine allocation information online so residents can see which providers have vaccines and the ways they can access it – through clinic appointments or community events, a news release said. The department will still focus allocations to “those providers that can administer vaccine most efficiently and effectively,” following the order Beam put in place in February.
Pennsylvania vaccine providers will be receiving a total of 278,670 first dose shots this week, along with 242,270 second dose shots. According to the Department of Health, the state has been allocated nearly 4.7 million doses since December, and providers have administered more than 3.8 million shots.
Many providers in the region have already begun efforts at speeding up vaccine distribution, with several mass clinics being held in the last several weeks by Allegheny Health Network, Giant Eagle and UPMC, among others.
Dr. Don Yealy, chair of emergency medicine at UPMC, said the system has already taken steps to meet state officials’ goal for the end of March – but noted that setting appointments is a separate challenge from actually administering the doses.
“I do think it’s a realistic goal to schedule the appointments,” Yealy said. “The key feature will be the actual deployment of the vaccine, and that depends on the amount of the vaccine and who is able to get the vaccine supply. We need lots more supply.”
Yealy said the hospital system has administered between 25,000 and 30,000 doses each week, but could do as much as 80,000 if it had the supply – and if vaccine allocations were more consistent. He said that while UPMC has used mass vaccine clinics and other methods for distribution, he asked for continued patience, even once appointments are scheduled.
“We want to make sure it’s as reliable as possible,” he said. “In other words, if you make an appointment, you get your vaccine. It doesn’t get canceled; no one runs out. And I think we’ve had a lot of success with that.”
Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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