February 9 Update PA Responses

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 weekly case totals and hospitalizations have continued to decrease, while number of those recovering from the virus continue to climb. The decline new case totals started in mid-December.

The most recent seven-day period ending February 4 showed 20,204 cases, 6,178 fewer than the previous period and the lowest number since early November.

Statewide virus test positivity also continues to drop, now down to 8.6 percent from last week’s 9.3 percent.  Several counties are now below the five percent threshold and several others are close.  Even Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties are at significantly reduced percentages (6.5 and 6% respectively, compared to figures in the mid-teens two months ago.

As of Sunday, Feb. 7, the daily figure for those hospitalized because of COVID-19 had dropped to 2,913 compared to 3,370 a week earlier.  And ICU beds with COVID-19 patients are below 600 statewide (592) compared to numbers closer to 1,000 two months ago.

Nevertheless, even as the virus case and hospitalization situations continue to improve, deaths are still rising – lagging hospitalizations - with the statewide total, as of Jan. 31 being 22,467, up from 21,661 a week earlier.

The drop in cases is also helping to increase the percentage of the infected population who are considered recovered from the virus. As of Sunday, 85 percent of the 865,604 confirmed and probable virus cases have now reached “recovered” status, which is up from 82 percent a week earlier.

COVID-19 vaccine update

Both the State House and State Senate, and both parties have expressed serious concern about the state’s rollout of vaccine since mid-December, as the Commonwealth has ranked as low as 49th out of 50 states in delivering vaccine to arms.  Governor Wolf has continued to maintain that the state was in the middle of the pack, but numbers show differently.  Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam has hit the ground running at the Department and made re-organization and expansion of the vaccine distribution and delivery system her top priority.

Vaccine Plans Never Submitted

Through hearings in Harrisburg, it was learned that the CDC had requested that each State present a plan to them for the Distribution of the Vaccine and plans for inoculation of its citizens by mid-October 2020. Pennsylvania was the only State to not submit a plan.

Pennsylvania hospitals began receiving shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine the week of Dec. 14 and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine the week of Dec. 21. Please note that this does include vaccine administration through the CVS as part of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership. Vaccination numbers for Pennsylvania does not include Philadelphia, which is its own jurisdiction, or federal facilities, which are working directly with the federal government.

Through Feb. 6:

  • 2,121,100 doses of the vaccine will have been allocated/received by providers.
    • 1,096,525 first doses will have been allocated.
      • 811,555 of the first doses will have been administered.
    • 1,024,575 second doses will have been allocated.
      • 196,470 of the second doses will have been administered.

Through Jan. 31:

  • 1,008,025 doses of the vaccine have been administered.
    • There are 615,085 people who have received one dose (partially covered).
    • There are 196,470 people who have received two doses (fully covered).
      • The math results in 1,008,025 doses administered to 811,555 people.

A spreadsheet of facilities that have received vaccine can be found here.

Vaccine dashboard data can also be found on the website.

All of the locations that received vaccine and how much they have received can be found on the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution webpage.

A commonwealth COVID-19 vaccination guide explains current process for getting one. Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.

Both state lawmakers and officials in the Wolf Administration have expressed disappointment with the current speed of vaccine rollout in the Keystone State.  As noted, Acting Secretary Beam has taken personal oversight of the planning here.  “If you step back to our underlying premise with designing the phases, it has always been to make sure those that are most at risk can access the vaccine first,” she said. “Right now, we know that we have the seniors and those with underlying comorbidities putting a lot of pressure on the system to make sure they get vaccinated. We’re focused on taking that demand and channeling it and trying to make sure our providers rise to the challenge of really pushing out those vaccines as quickly as possible.”

For many, the issue isn’t so much what phase they fall in, but more how they get vaccinated.   PA-ACP has been asking the Department since late November for more information on getting vaccine to independent physicians and quantities of vaccine for their patients.  Two months later, we have not gotten answers.  The state has been working almost exclusively with hospital systems and retail pharmacies, and problems with the website have added to frustrations in the public.

Millions of Pennsylvanians who now qualify for Phase 1A are still unable to sign up for the vaccine, particularly those without internet access. But Secretary Beam points to 1-877-PA-HEALTH as a resource, despite the state not having a system to register over the phone.  As far as staffing, Beam detailed the department’s improvements moving forward.

“The staff reallocation is something we’ve worked through the last week. Hopefully what they will be able to experience is not so much hold time or any of the claims you made about not necessarily getting resolution to their inquiry. Most of all, we want to make sure their calls are getting answered, they’re getting the assistance they need and their getting it as quickly as possible when they do contact us,” she said.

“We’re working on making sure that analysis, the how do I get a vaccine, is also done as effectively as possible,” Beam said. “This is where we are really closely contacting and in close conversations with our state counterparts. There have been systems and a lot of them have struggled as well, to be quite frank. We want to make sure if we’re building, we’re building something that’s going to enhance user ability, not creating another challenge for folks accessing that vaccine.”

While the state has taken a hands-off approach when it comes to allowing providers to work directly with their patients in terms of getting vaccination sign-ups, Beam said the department is continuously looking at improvement, even leaving the door open to create a centralized registration system for Pennsylvanians to sign-up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“With that being said, the centralized registry and the interest in it is something we are constantly exploring,” she said. “That plan relies heavily on vaccine supply from the federal government ... Which continues to fall well short of demand.”

Beam confirmed the state will receive 175,000 first doses from the federal government this week and the same amount next week. But if a third vaccine gets temporary approval from the FDA, supply could increase quickly.

“I think everyone in Pennsylvania is standing at the ready for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to get its EUA so we can have a robust supply. That also opens up pathways where there would only need to be one vaccine instead of two, which really allows us to reach populations that may just not be able to conform to what is necessary for a two-part vaccination,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is currently considering a bill to get the national guard more involved in the logistics of the rollout, something Beam and the Wolf Administration are hesitant to support at this point.  PEMA is working on the possibility of mass vaccination clinics; something Beam says remains on hold due to vaccine supply.