After Pennsylvania expanded COVID-19 vaccination eligibility earlier this week, several Centre County providers are beginning to offer scheduling for appointments or to get on a waitlist to receive the vaccine.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health updated its vaccine distribution plan’s first phase to include anyone age 65 or older, as well as those with certain medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. But as supplies remain limited statewide most of the registered vaccine providers in Centre County either had not received their shipments at the time or said they did not yet have enough supply to begin vaccinating the expanded group.
Centre Volunteers in Medicine is the first local provider to begin administering the vaccine beyond health care personnel and long-term care facility residents.
Monica Wright, development director for the free clinic located in Patton Township, said CVIM received an initial 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine. Those have already been spoken for, with appointments booked Friday and Monday.
Sometime next week, however, CVIM expects to receive another shipment. Wright said the clinic staff do not know how many doses they will receive, but they are hopeful it will be more than the first.
Eligible local residents go to cvim.net/covid-vaccination to sign up for the waiting list. Those who sign up do not need to be CVIM clients and only need to meet the state’s eligibility requirements. Two appointments will be scheduled a month apart for the recipient to receive the required two doses
Wright urged that individuals interested in a vaccination appointment use the website and not call the office, as clinic volunteers have been overwhelmed with phone calls.
Mount Nittany Health plans to open an online scheduling system for eligible individuals at the end of next week.
The health system is wrapping up the final stages of vaccinating more than 3,400 health care workers throughout Centre County.
“Completing this effort will fully utilize the vaccine supply that the health system has been currently allocated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” according to a statement from Mount Nittany Health on Friday.
Beginning Jan. 29, a self-scheduling system for anyone included in Phase 1A of the state’s distribution plan will be available at mountnittanycoronavirus.org. Pending vaccine availability, additional appointments will be opened starting the first week of February.
Appointment demand is expected to be high and Mount Nittany officials asked that those interested check the website regularly rather than inquiring by phone.
Tom Charles, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Mount Nittany Health, said that demand is expected to “significantly exceed supply,” locally, statewide and nationally for the foreseeable future.
Mount Nittany has “significantly increased” its request for vaccine quantities to the Pennsylvania Department of Health and is waiting for information on when future shipments will be received, Charles said.
Another local COVID-19 vaccine provider, Boalsburg Apothecary, requests that those interested in an appointment sign up for the waiting list online and not call the pharmacy to schedule or check on their status.
“Due to the overwhelming demand and very short supply of vaccine, our staff cannot field all the calls at this time,” a statement on the Boalsburg Apothecary website says. “Due to the overwhelming demand and very short supply, we cannot guarantee that we can call everyone on the list. We are going to call people on a first come, first serve basis. We will do the best we can to serve as many people as possible. We are all in this together.”
Moshannon Valley Pharmacy in Philipsburg, another registered vaccine provider, has a similar statement on its website urging those interested to sign up for the waiting list online and not call the pharmacy.
Rite Aid in Bellefonte is listed by the health department as a registered vaccine provider. The pharmacy chain has an online registration site for Pennsylvania COVID-19 vaccination appointments and demand is high. More than 3,100 users were in the online queue for scheduling at 2 p.m. on Friday.
Rite Aid pharmacies cannot schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments over the phone, according to the Department of Health’s interactive map of vaccine providers.
Geisinger is offering COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment at its community vaccination centers. Its nearest vaccination center to Centre County is in Lewistown. Information about registering for appointments is available at geisinger.org/COVIDvax.
Aligning with federal plans, Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccination plan was updated on Tuesday to include everyone age 65 and older and those age 16-64 who have high-risk conditions or who are immunocompromised.
Medical conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control that qualify for Phase 1A eligibility include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions, immunocompromised state resulting from a variety of factors, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, sickle cell disease and type 2 diabetes.
DOH has developed an “eligibility quiz” and an interactive map of registered vaccine providers with contact information to schedule an appointment directly when available.
With availability and quantities still uncertain, the health department has set no timelines for future phases of distribution.
Phase 1B will include first responders, corrections officers, people living and working in congregate settings, clergy and workers in food and agriculture, education, grocery stores, public transit, childhood and adult day care and the U.S. Postal Service.
Phase 1C will include essential workers in more than a dozen other sectors. Phase 2, the final phase, will provide the vaccine to all individuals age 16 and older who were not covered in the previous phases.
Currently, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is approved for ages 16 and older, while Moderna’s is approved for ages 18 and older.
Dr. Nirmal Joshi, Mount Nittany Health chief medical officer, said in a statement that the COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be safe and effective and the best way to protect from serious illness. But it also is just one tool to curb the spread of the virus.
“Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed,” Dr. Nirmal Joshi, Mount Nittany Health chief medical officer, said in a statement. “Continuing to consistently follow additional COVID safety measures including social distancing, not meeting in large groups, masking and frequent hand washing is essential and helps to significantly reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others. Together with the vaccine, these actions offer the best protection against the virus.”
Tom Charles, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Mount Nittany Health, discusses the State College-based health system’s plans for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals age 65 and older and those age 16-64 with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. Video courtesy of Mount Nittany Health.