New orders from state health officials will try to speed up and streamline Pennsylvania’s vaccination process, requiring vaccine providers to administer the bulk of their allotted first doses within one week of receiving them.
Effective Feb. 22, vaccine providers will have to administer 80% of the first-dose vaccines that they receive within seven days of receiving them.
“I want Pennsylvanians to know that we have heard you, and we are taking bold, decisive action,” said Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam.
There will be fewer providers receiving vaccine allocations as well, Beam said, indicating that more doses will go to the providers that have “demonstrated they have the ability to vaccinate the most people quickly.”
That means, she said, that some providers will start receiving fewer first-shot doses than they’d been receiving in the past. She said this is the most effective way to vaccinate the most people in the least amount of time.
“This order is indicative of a plan, and it will progressively come into effect,” Beam said, noting that about 1,700 providers are currently signed up to give vaccines – though not all are receiving shipments regularly – and that number will progressively drop to just a few hundred.
The focus first will be on making sure providers give a full and complete picture how many people are actually being vaccinated and who they are in terms of demographics. That data will have to be reported to the state within 24 hours.
That requirement goes into effect immediately.
“We need to know not only how much vaccine has been delivered, but accurately understand how much has been administered,” she said.
Pittsburgh-based infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja agreed that Pennsylvania is not performing optimally when it comes to vaccinations.
“There really should be no excuse for vaccines being on hand but remaining on shelves,” said Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “This order emphasizes the urgency we face with vaccine rollout in this state. I do worry about dose allocations being reduced or suspended as a punitive action because it may potentially further complicate rollout and be reflective of a lack of resources and be better addressed with augmenting the abilities of faltering vaccine sites rather than punishment.”
Adalja said vaccine priority classifications are slowing the process.
“Vaccinators should be granted flexibility to depart from strict priority groups to meet the 80% rule,” he said.
The next focus is then making sure their appointment-making systems – both online and via phone – are up to snuff. From there, Beam said, the Department of Health will have a better idea of which providers are in compliance with this latest round of orders.
The phone scheduling system is another highlight of Beam’s orders, and she noted that many who are eligible have been left behind with online forms or phone lines that direct them to an online form.
“We want to make sure the phone line is staffed by a real, live individual who will be able to take your information and schedule an appointment for you,” she said, noting that providers should be making a person’s second-dose appointment at the same time they’re making the initial appointment.
The goal, she said, is to get providers to “invest in making sure that their phone lines are there for those that aren’t as comfortable using the online mechanism.”
That part of Beam’s order goes into effect Feb. 19.
The requirement for providers to administer 80% of their first-shot doses within seven days of getting them is the last tenet of the orders to go into effect. Beam said the working through the first and second focuses will then give the Department of Health a better understanding where vaccine should go and how much of it should go there.
“After that, we will be able have the allocations reflective of their compliance with the order,” she said. “It’s important, from our perspective, that our partners – our providers – know what our expectations are before they place their next order.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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