Local health facilities and Washington and Greene County leaders have joined forces to create three large vaccination clinic sites in the hopes of speeding up COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Meanwhile, Southwestern Pennsylvania health care leaders expressed frustration at the limited number of vaccine doses they have received since the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in mid-December, and said they don’t have enough vaccines to meet the expanded eligibility guidelines announced Tuesday by the state Department of Health.
The Washington-Greene County Consolidated COVID Vaccination Plan – which includes Washington Health System, Allegheny Health Network Canonsburg Hospital, Monongahela Valley Hospital, Centerville Clinics, Cornerstone Care, Washington and Greene County commissioners, and local EMS – is working on plans to set up vaccination sites in Peters Township, the city of Washington, and Waynesburg to accommodate people eligible for the vaccine.
The groups are coordinating to make the best use of hospital, county, and community resources for the clinics, and to staff the clinics with enough personnel – including retired health care workers – and equipment.
“Our goal is to get as many vaccines into people’s arms as quickly and safely as we can,” said Dr. John Six, WHS vice president and CMO.
Those plans have been stymied, however, because of the limited vaccine supply.
The DOH expanded eligibility for Phase 1A to those over the age of 65 and those between the ages of 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions.
In a letter released by the Southwestern PA Regional Chief Medical Officers Consortium Wednesday, CMOs wrote, “We agree the groups identified are key for limiting COVID-19 spread and harm. However, we simply do not have adequate vaccine supplies or clear notification of when and how much is coming to be able to meet this new, much larger group who can benefit.”
Six said the health system is prepared to get the vaccine “from shipment to arm,” but noted, “we’re getting the same small allocation of the vaccine.
“There certainly has been some element of frustration regarding when and how much vaccine we’re getting,” said Six. “The state is at the mercy of the federal government, and we’re not always on the same page or getting the same information. I don’t know why we’re not getting it; I don’t know where the hang-up is.”
WHS, for example, has received only 4,000 vaccine doses so far, and has either administered those doses or has scheduled second doses for people who received their first shot..
In a videotaped message, WHS President and CEO Brook Ward estimated that an additional 80,000 people in Washington County are eligible for the vaccine under the new guidelines.
Supply simply doesn’t meet the demand.
The CMO Consortium wrote, “Our health care sites and system will need to continue to prioritize those seeking vaccination, identifying the most vulnerable in the area to serve first and to optimize impact during this time of short supply. That means many requests for vaccination will not be met in the next days to weeks, and this is not from a lack of desire.”
The Washington County commissioners on Thursday approved the partnership agreement with Washington Health System to help distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines when they become more widely available.
“We want to make sure we’re providing immunization for as many individuals as possible,” commission Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan said after the unanimous vote during their meeting.
She said the county’s public safety department, which helped administer the H1N1 vaccine about a decade ago, is ready to help.
Since the DOH announced the new expanded eligibility, hospitals, including WHS, have been inundated with phone calls from people who want to know when they can receive the vaccine.
Ward said WHS plans to add a vaccine sign-up section on its website. Vaccine information is also available on its Facebook page, through an email e-blast, and on a hospital COVID phone message. He encouraged people to sign up for the e-blast on the hospital website at whs.org/covid.
Ward also asked people to stop calling, texting and emailing about the vaccine, and advised people to contact their primary care physician if they have questions about eligibility.
Ward also said that at WHS, the vaccine will only be given to those who have made an appointment.
“We don’t want people lined up outside in the winter hoping they can get in, and you don’t want to be waiting outside for hours only to find out we ran out and have nothing to give you,” he said.
The consortium advised people, regardless of their health status or if they have been vaccinated already, to “continue ongoing vigilance with masking, distancing, hygiene, and no congregation outside of your household to curtail transmission.”
Staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this story.