People 75 and older in Allegheny County will have to wait longer to get their shots of covid vaccine as county officials await guidance from the federal government.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls and emails from individuals wanting to know when it will be their turn to be vaccinated, and how they will know,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said Wednesday. “I wish we could answer that. There is a great deal of information that is still unknown.”
State and county officials have received little insight from federal entities, they said, which may be slowing down the vaccination process.
The state’s vaccine dashboard shows that around 30,000 vaccines have been distributed in Allegheny County, but Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen said this was a “significant underestimate.”
The county as a whole received about 115,000 doses since mid-December, and most are being distributed through the county’s health systems, she said.
The health department alone has administered 2,266 vaccines and plans to distribute the remainder of its first allocation by Wednesday, Bogen said. The health department is planning to extend the hours of its Monroeville vaccine site and has already requested another allocation of doses from the federal government.
None of these figures include vaccine distribution at long-term care facilities, which is being handled by a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens. Bogen said 42 long-term care facilities in the county have received vaccines, but the number of vaccines given through the program have not been shared at the county level.
“I know people continue to be frustrated with what feels like a very slow process,” Bogen said. “There is a great deal of information that is not known to us and aspects of distribution — like the allocation of vaccine to Pennsylvania from the federal government — that aren’t in our control.”
The state is notified each week about how many doses they’ll receive from the federal government, and then in turn allocates doses to each county. As more vaccine providers come on board, Bogen said, the fewer doses each will get until the state is either given more or vaccine manufacturing increases.
The county has gotten an average of about 23,000 doses per week in the last five weeks, she said.
Focus still on health care workers
Bogen said the county is still occupied with vaccinating people in Phase 1A of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, including health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. While some states have already started Phase 1B — which includes people over 75 and grocery store workers — officials said Allegheny County is likely to spend more time on 1A, due to the number of health care workers in the region.
“Our region in particular has a higher than average number of people who will fall into 1A, because we have so many health care-related workers in our county,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re asking for your patience.”
Fitzgerald added that the amount of vaccination allocated to each county each week fluctuates, which is also increasing the time it will take to get through the phases.
Bogen acknowledged the lack of information for many front line workers and members of the general population when it comes to vaccine distribution. She echoed sentiments of Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who has repeatedly said the state is at the mercy of the federal government for vaccine amounts and timing.
“Knowing when more vaccine is coming down the pike would be very helpful,” Bogen said.
When it’s 75-year-olds’ turn
When the county does move to Phase 1B, Bogen asked providers to prioritize immunizing residents 75 and older, along with those 65 and older who have chronic health risks. When vaccine supply increases, doses will be available at community pharmacies, at pop-up events and mass vaccination sites.
“This is all being planned, but timing depends on vaccine availability, so we don’t yet have a perfect timeline for you,” Bogen said.
Still, there have been many reports in the county of vaccine providers administering doses to people outside of the first priority group. Bogen asked providers to reach out to the health department if they have additional vaccine doses and don’t know how to access more people in 1A.
Meanwhile, Bogen said she remains concerned about a post-holiday surge in covid cases, deaths and hospitalizations. The county on Wednesday reported 74 new deaths — 73 of which occurred in December, Bogen said, due to lags in the state’s electronic death-reporting system.
December was the county’s most deadly month of the pandemic, with a total of 509 deaths.
Teghan Simonton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Teghan at 724-226-4680, email@example.com or via Twitter .
Allegheny | Coronavirus | Local