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Acting Physician General Says Pennsylvania Could Still Reach 70% Vaccination Before The State's Mask Order Expires

Dr. Denise Johnson, Pennsylvania's acting Physician General, speaks to reporters at UPMC's South Side clinic Tuesday, June 15, 2021.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Dr. Denise Johnson, Pennsylvania's acting Physician General, speaks to reporters at UPMC's South Side clinic Tuesday, June 15, 2021.

Pennsylvania may still reach Gov. Tom Wolf’s goal of vaccinating 70% of adults before June 28, according to the state’s Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. Wolf said last month that the state would lift the mask-wearing order by June 28 or when 70% of adult Pennsylvanians had been fully vaccinated.

“It really depends on Pennsylvanians continuing at the rate that we’ve had to get that vaccination done,” she said at UPMC’s South Side clinic. Johnson toured the clinic Tuesday, which offers COVID-19 testing, treatment and vaccines.

Johnson noted that the state crossed the threshold of 70% of Pennsylvanians with a single dose of vaccine nearly three weeks ago; the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have three and four week intervals between doses respectively.

“We still need to continue at the pace we’ve been going,” she said.

The state health department announced today that 73.6% of adult Pennsylvanians had gotten at least one shot of a vaccine; 57.5% are fully vaccinated.

Johnson said the state is not actively exploring an incentive program that mirrors those in Ohio or California. “Nothing is off the table,” she said. “[But] the reasons [for hesitancy] that we’ve found have been due to lack of information or access.”

Other states have offered cash prizes, event tickets and gift cards to people who get vaccinated. Allegheny County is partnering with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Saturday to offer free admission to those who get a vaccine on site. Other local events have offered a free beer or doughnut to those who get a shot.

“We certainly are not discouraging any private organizations from giving incentives. But really the big incentive is to protect yourself and your community against COVID,” Johnson said.

Johnson was joined by Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Debra Bogen at the clinic who announced that, “nearly all,” Allegheny County residents age 65 and older have gotten at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Bogen said 76% of adults have been fully vaccinated and rates are improving among children.

But health officials warned the vaccine campaign doesn’t end when 70% of Pennsylvanians are fully vaccinated. “There are some areas where the vaccination rates are lower than that overall Pennsylvania number. And we know that there are communities that have more difficult access to vaccine,” she said. “We are not going to stop vaccination when we hit [70%],” she said.

People are still getting admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 and dying, Johnson said.

Dr. Donald Yealy, UPMC’s chief medical officer, said the majority of people receiving care at UPMC hospitals have either not been vaccinated or are between doses. Yealy said while there are vaccinated patients seeking care for COVID-19, the number is minimal and their cases aren’t life threatening.

The state Department of Health reported there are 512 individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. Of that number, 130 are in an intensive care unit. Most patients hospitalized are ages 65 and older.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.