20210117_loc_WHS vaccines2.JPG

Courtesy of Washington Health System

In this photo from last week, Jeremy Funkhouser, director of pharmacy at Washington Health System, removes COVID-19 vaccines from the deep freezer. 

Local health systems and pharmacists say their phones never stopped ringing Tuesday after the state abruptly changed the rules on who is eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

McCracken Pharmacy in Waynesburg added a message to its voicemail to say it wasn’t scheduling appointments for vaccinations because it had yet to receive its supply of the drug.

“It has been a pretty rocky couple of days with phone calls,” said Charles Adamson, pharmacist. He was directing callers to the pharmacy’s Facebook page for information on when the vaccines will be available.

Erich Cushey, a pharmacist at Curtis Pharmacy in Washington and Claysville, said its website registered hundreds of names of people wanting a vaccine after the state Health Department changed the rules Tuesday. He also has a pharmacy in Connellsville.

The state Tuesday announced an interactive map with locations of more pharmacies that are or will be offering vaccines. The state also made 3.5 million more people eligible for a vaccine when it added to the first phase of the rollout people 65 and older and those between the ages of 16 and 64 who have serious health problems.

The state expanded the rules at the recommendation of Operation Warp Speed, a federal initiative that manages the distribution of the vaccines, said Dr. Debra Bogen, director of the Allegheny County Health Department.

She said she would love to vaccinate everyone in the new grouping.

“The reality is the current supply makes this unachievable at this time,” Bogen said. “Please be patient.”

She said the good news is that new cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been slowly declining in Allegheny since mid-December.

Washington Health System spokesperson Stephanie Wagoner said its hospitals are being inundated with phone calls from people seeking the COVID-19 vaccine after the state expanded Phase 1A of COVID-19 vaccination distribution.

‘We realize that many of you are eager to receive the vaccine, and assure you that we are doing everything we can to get the vaccine distributed as quickly as possible,” WHS said in an email. “WHS has limited resources, and we are receiving a limited supply of vaccine at this time. Therefore, we are unable to vaccinate everyone as quickly as they’d like, and we need everyone to please remain patient.”

WHS is establishing an online COVID vaccine request process and asked people not to email, call or text about vaccine availability.

Information will be provided on the WHS Facebook page and through its e-blast.

Centerville Clinics also became overloaded with calls about the vaccines and added a new line for people to get more information about them, said Barry Niccolai, its executive director.

Centerville was among the first places to receive the doses to administer to health-care workers and is now limiting them to its patients who meet the expanded category, Niccolai said.

“There are a lot of moving pieces,” he said.

Centerville also has created a “war room” with new staff to set up appointments for the vaccines, Niccolai said.

He said he was unsure if or when more doses of the vaccine will become available.

Cushey said the state doesn’t appear to have the supply of vaccines to meet the needs of the new market.

“I think they’re creating panic,” he said.

Both pharmacists said they are eager to get the vaccines in as many arms as possible.

“I’m in this holding pattern, Adamson said. “If we get it we’re going full steam ahead.”

He said the demand for the vaccines in Greene probably resulted in the fall surge in cases that resulted in most people knowing someone who died from the disease. Greene didn’t see many cases in the spring when the state shut down businesses to curb the spread of the virus.

The virus has killed 19,868 Pennsylvanians since March after 401 new deaths were reported Wednesday, including 15 in Fayette County and six in Washington County. There were no new virus deaths announced in Greene.

Washington County announced 111 new virus cases, taking its cumulative total to 11,667. Fayette reported 67 new cases to its total of 9,177. Greene’s case count grew by 24 to 2,247.

Staff writer Karen Mansfield contributed to this story.

Staff Writer

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley.

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