The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Tuesday expanded who is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the state’s first phase of distribution — but that doesn’t mean it will be immediately available to all of the 3.5 million residents who are now eligible for it.
Aligning with federal planning, Phase 1A, the current phase of distribution, now includes anyone age 65 and older, as well as those ages 16 to 64 with certain underlying medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus, said Cindy Findley, deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention and leader of the state’s Vaccine Task Force.
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.
Previously, Phase 1A was limited to health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities. Phases and eligibility are available on the health department’s website.
But while the number of people eligible is expanding, Pennsylvania’s allotment of vaccine doses from the federal government has not increased.
“We must have patience, as the amount of vaccine available in Pennsylvania and the nation remains limited,” Findley said. “We want to ensure that the vaccine is provided to Pennsylvanians in a way that is ethical, equitable and efficient, which is why we are taking this phased approach.”
DOH has developed an “eligibility quiz” and an interactive map of registered vaccine providers with contact information to schedule an appointment directly when available.
The health department map lists six registered COVID-19 vaccine providers in Centre County, though three are listed as not having received the vaccine yet and at least one other says it does not currently have enough to distribute beyond health care providers.
Listed as providers that have not yet received the vaccine are Boalsburg Apothecary, Moshannon Valley Pharmacy in Philipsburg and Mountaintop Area Medical Center in Snow Shoe.
Mount Nittany Medical Center, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Pleasant Gap and Rite Aid in Bellefonte are listed as having received the vaccine.
Since late December, Mount Nittany Health has been administering its two shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to its own staff and community health care providers such as Centre Volunteers in Medicine, Centre County emergency medical personnel, physicians, dentists and school nurses.
In a statement on Tuesday, Mount Nittany officials said their supply remains limited to health care workers and they are continuing to work through a wait list of community health care providers who have yet to receive it.
“We are working closely with the DOH and have ordered additional quantities of the COVID-19 vaccine to expand our vaccination program to the newly added groups,” the statement said.
“We will provide updates on our website, including a self-scheduling option, as soon as we have more information on when we can expect more of the vaccine. Rather than calling the health system, the best way to stay informed and to self-schedule for the vaccine when it is available is to check mountnittany.org/coronavirus regularly.”
Mount Nittany has vaccinated more than 2,200 employees, medical staff and community healthcare workers to date. A total of 3,481 individuals have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Centre County, according to DOH data.
An online scheduling tool for Rite Aid stated on Tuesday night that no appointments are currently available and directed users to return tomorrow to check for added availability.
Geisinger announced Tuesday night it is expanding availability for its patients. Its nearest vaccine center to Centre County is in Lewistown. Appointments are required and can be made online using myGeisinger.
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.