New Guidelines Meant To Boost Vaccine Distribution Could Hinder Some Providers

On today's program: health reporter Sarah Boden explains how new state guidance on vaccine distribution could make it more difficult for small pharmacies to get allocated enough doses; two historians talk about the role of African Americans in the Civil War, including two soldiers from Pittsburgh; and we’ll hear how a promising Squirrel Hill housing project was almost derailed.

New state mandate is creating problems for small COVID-19 vaccine distributors

(0:00 — 4:43) 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is requiring vaccine providers to administer 80% of their supply within the first week of receiving those doses or risk not getting as many in subsequent allocations.  

For larger pharmacies and healthcare systems, this mandate isn’t of concern, says WESA’s health and science reporter Sarah Boden

“Frankly, that doesn’t surprise me because places like Giant Eagle, or UPMC, they have larger workforces,” says Boden. 

A smaller facility distributing vaccines, Hilltop Pharmacy in Allentown, told Boden the mandate is creating more work due to the difficulty in creating a vaccine clinic, and also because the amount of vaccine the pharmacy receives week to week varies.

“That 80% mark was to push vaccine out faster, but another part of the order tells vaccine providers that they now must offer appointment scheduling both online and through a phone system where calls are answered by a person,” Boden says. The intention, she says, was to create accountability and equity for those eligible and seeking a vaccine. 

This comes after some providers in Allegheny County announced they don’t have enough Moderna vaccines to provide second doses within the suggested window. 

Boden says the state has promised people will get those second doses, even though it may be six weeks after the first dose. 

“Frankly, we don’t have enough data beyond the six-week mark to know, if we push the second shot out to seven or eight weeks, we don’t know if the vaccine will be as efficacious.”

Two historians are elevating the stories of Black people who served in the Civil War
(4:45 — 13:41)

The American Civil War held the fate of enslaved peoples in the balance, and its end signified the beginning of efforts to extend civil rights to Black Americans. But outside of these broad themes, there are few figures whose efforts in the war we know by name, and fewer, if any, are Black. 

“I don’t know why we don’t know those stories,” says Dr. Edda Fields-Black, an associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University. “Maybe it’s because not enough of a written record has survived by those soldiers. Maybe it’s something that we as American society just haven’t really reckoned with yet.”

Tim Neff, the director of museum and education at Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum, agrees. 

“Who writes the history and where does that history come from?” he says, adding documentation from Black soldiers may have been lost. He says, too, that those teaching Civil War history may be more familiar with the more familiar stories of the Civil War that highlight white soldiers and captains. 

Neff says it took the work of abolitionists to even allow Black soldiers to serve in the Civil War. Neff will lead a virtual class on Varsity Tutors this evening about African Americans who fought, specifically two from the western Pennsylvania area who earned the Medal of Honor for their service: First Sergeant Alexander Kelley, and First Sergeant James H. Bronson.

Fields-Black is currently writing a book about Harriet Tubman’s service in the Civil War, as well. 

“She worked as a nurse in the Contraband Hospital, she cooked for soldiers and officers, she was a spy,” says Fields-Black of Tubman. “She’s on the frontlines with enslaved people as they’re coming off the plantations into Buford looking for help, and she’s getting intelligence from them and passing it on to the generals of the department of the South.”

Both historians say they hope to learn more about the lives and contributions of Black men and women in the Civil War: what they did, who they were, and what motivated them. 

“Our thinking about the Civil War has primarily been on the Lost Cause, and it’s been focused on the South and white Southerners who fought for their ancestors and their homestead and their way of life,” says Fields-Black. “Black people fought for their freedom and fought for this country, even when they weren’t citizens of this country. They fought for a different way of life.” 

Squirrel Hill development gets approved, but only by way of unexpected, one-time funding
(13:45 — 18:00)

By most counts, Pittsburgh is short approximately 20,000 units of affordable housing, but there’s not a lot of money to go around. 

90.5 WESA’s Margaret J. Krauss reports even standout projects can run the risk of failure

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.