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Allegheny Co. To Continue Prioritizing Health Care Workers Despite State Vaccine Expansion

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Katie Blackley
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90.5 WESA
A waiting area at a County-operated COVID-19 vaccine clinic.

The Allegheny County Health Department is strongly encouraging COVID-19 vaccine providers wait to vaccinate individuals age 65 and older and younger people with high-risk health conditions. The direction was announced hours after Pennsylvania health officials expanded the so-called Phase 1A category to include those individuals.

“Moving those who are most vulnerable in our community up in priority is a step for which I advocated and support. We should be doing everything we can to reach those who are most at-risk in our community,” Dr. Debra Bogen, Allegheny County Health Department director, said in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the Health Department’s supply of vaccine – and the supply of vaccine coming into the county to all providers - is still extremely limited and unknown from week to week,” Bogen said.

According to the statement, fewer than 20,000 doses of vaccine per week were delivered to health care providers, organizations and pharmacies in the county over the last few weeks. This figure does not include doses that went to the Federal Pharmacy Partnership to vaccinate residents in long-term care facilities.

“Until vaccine supply increases significantly, the Health Department strongly encourages organizations to – and supports those which have already indicated that they will – prioritize vaccinating those most at-risk for severe COVID-19 disease.”

Pennsylvania’s Phase 1A category was originally limited to front line health care workers and long-term care facility residents. 

Officials said Tuesday, 2,269 organizations representing approximately 57,500 employees have requested and are still awaiting vaccination through the county’s website. That figure does not include vaccination requests through UPMC or Allegheny Health Network.

State health officials on Tuesday also acknowledged concerns about vaccine supply.

“We are well aware we don't have enough vaccine to meet the demand at this point," Cindy Findley, a deputy secretary, said at a press conference announcing the state’s new expanded Phase 1A.

State and local officials have suggested mass vaccination clinics are being planned, but a time frame for those to roll out has not been disclosed. President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to have 100 million doses available by his first 100 days in office.

Despite Tuesday’s call to hold off on expanding eligibility, Bogen said Allegheny County would be announcing a timeframe for including the groups added by the state soon.

“In the coming weeks, the Health Department will announce its revised plans for an expanded vaccine rollout," she said. "These plans will prioritize reaching those residents 75 and older and those 65 and older with specific health conditions through large vaccination clinics, mobile clinics and pop-up events."