Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation for the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered per 100,000 people over the past week.
Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam touted this as a clear signal that Pennsylvania is making significant progress after a rocky start to its vaccination campaign.
“This is proof that the pace of vaccination is accelerating here,” Beam said. “But let me be clear: we have a very long and challenging road ahead of us. I can guarantee you that the team here at the Department of Health will not stop adapting and innovating our strategy until every single Pennsylvanian who wants it gets the vaccine.”
About 3.18 million people have received at least one or both COVID-19 vaccines, with 1.54 million fully protected, according to data from the state and Philadelphia health departments.
Last week, the state got a significant boost after it launched its educator vaccination campaign with new single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots. An all-time high of almost 104,000 shots went into arms Friday, but Pennsylvania still ranks 29th nationally per capita overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The state reported 3,126 new coronavirus infections and 17 deaths on Thursday, bringing Pennsylvania to at least 976,847 total infections and 24,706. This marks the fourth day in the last week there have been more than 3,000 new cases.
Here are your coronavirus updates for Thursday, March 18, 2021.
About 24% of Pennsylvanians have received at least one vaccine dose and 12% are fully vaccinated.
The demand for COVID-19 vaccines in Pennsylvania continues to outpace the available doses, but Beam said in a Thursday news conference she still thinks a May 1 goal of opening eligibility to all is achievable.
There are now 1.54 million people who have been completely vaccinated and 1.64 million with one shot, according to state and Philadelphia health department data.
Statewide, 97% of allocated first dose shots have been given, while 66% of second dose shots have, Beam said. This data excludes Philly, which gets its own vaccine allocation.
Pennsylvania remains in Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which prioritizes those over 65, frontline healthcare workers and younger people with certain high-risk medical conditions. Pennsylvania estimates about 4.5 million people are in this phase.
Pennsylvania and Illinois are doing a better job of providing first doses to older adults when compared to the nation’s 10 states with a larger 65 plus population, the health department notes. One-quarter of Americans 65 and older live in California, Florida and Texas. Pennsylvania is one of seven other states that accounts for another quarter of older adults.
Once the state finishes its educator vaccination campaign with Johnson & Johnson shots, the single-dose vaccines will go to certain Phase 1B workers, like law enforcement, firefighters, grocery store and agriculture workers and to state-run mass vaccine clinics. The state expects its J&J allocation to increase significantly by the end of March.
Beam emphasized on Thursday she is highlighting the infrastructure Pennsylvania now has ready “to administer every drop of vaccine as quickly as we can get it from the federal government for the next month or so.” There are four pillars: providers receiving federal allocations, like retail pharmacies and FEMA mass clinics; the state’s targeted clinics with Johnson & Johnson; the state’s narrowed provider network and state mass vaccination sites, including mobile vaccine clinics.
This will ensure that everyone in Phase 1A can book an appointment by the end of March, as Gov. Tom Wolf ordered last week, and then quickly move on to Phases 1B and 1C, Beam said.
“We are working towards opening eligibility for everyone on May 1,” she said. “Eligibility does not mean that vaccinations will be immediately available. It will take time to get shots in the arms of everyone who wants a vaccine. Pennsylvania has no shortage of providers that are ready to administer the vaccine, but there is a shortage of vaccine.”
The state has smoothed out a vaccine shortfall caused by some providers giving second doses as first doses but overall demand remains high, Beam confirmed Thursday.
The state has now narrowed down its vaccine provider network down to roughly 300 providers, which will receive allocations in the coming weeks, and launched a new provider map that’s meant to be more user-friendly.
Anyone looking for a vaccine can input their address and see the closest providers, including those receiving vaccine through the federal retail pharmacy partnership. (The federal allocations are reflected in the state’s vaccine data.) The map is more mobile-friendly and more accessible for the visually impaired, said Department of Health Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter.
Providers on the map were selected based on geography, ability to deliver a high volume of shots quickly, equitably and across demographics within a week of delivery, Beam said. These providers received their first doses this week and will continue to do so.
Pennsylvania is now posting which providers have received first and second vaccine doses each week in its Open Data platform, as well as retail pharmacy providers getting doses and long-term care facilities holding vaccine clinics via the federal pharmacy partnership.
Coronavirus in Pa. and the Lehigh Valley
The state’s new coronavirus infections plateaued in recent weeks after a steady decline. Although, there’s been a slight uptick over the last week with four of the last seven days reporting 3,000 cases or more.
Over the last week, Pennsylvania is averaging 2,638 new cases a day, nearly identical to the rate two weeks ago, and 31 deaths, a significant decline from 50 deaths a day two weeks ago. The majority of the state’s deaths have been among the elderly.
There are 1,500 people hospitalized with COVID-19 currently, with 284 requiring intensive care. This is comparable to the spring peak of May 3. The majority of people hospitalized are 65 and over.
The Lehigh Valley reported 236 new cases on Thursday and one death This breaks down to 112 new cases and no new deaths in Lehigh County, bringing the total toll to 32,236 infections and 796 lives lost. Northampton County reports 124 new infections and one new death for a total of 28,482 cases and 666 deaths.
The Lehigh Valley’s counties remain in the top 10 for the most vaccination per 100,000 people. Philadelphia leads the pack with 38,908 shots per capita.
Northampton County’s administered a total of 78,009 total shots and has a vaccine rate of 25,553 per 100,000 residents. Lehigh County’s administered 91,969 shots with a rate of 24,902 shots per capita.
The Bethlehem Health Bureau will be posting appointments for its clinics Monday and Wednesday of next week at 8 a.m. Friday. Visit the website here and click on the COVID-19 vaccine clinic dates and registration for the link to schedule an appointment.
A small number of phone appointments will be available by calling 610-865-7092. These are reserved for Bethlehem and Northampton County residents who are 65 or older and lack internet and computer access.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that vaccines allocated through the federal retail pharmacy partnership are tracked in the state dashboard.
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Sara K. Satullo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.