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Unsure When You’ll Get A Vaccine In Allegheny County? Here’s What We Know

Wilsons.jpeg
Patrick Doyle
/
90.5 WESA
Wilson's Pharmacy in Lawrenceville on Jan. 28, 2021

The first COVID-19 vaccinations began in Allegheny County on Monday, Dec. 14, when five UPMC employees received the first available Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Since then, the rollout of vaccinations has been an evolving process, but here’s what we know.

How are vaccines being administered in Allegheny County?

This question is hard to answer, because multiple organizations are administering vaccines and are taking different approaches.

The Allegheny County Health Department is following the vaccination phases from the state of Pennsylvania and the CDC. There are four different phases for vaccinating various groups:

  • Phase 1A*: Health care workers, including emergency medical service personnel, residents/staff of long-term care facilities, people 65 years and older, and people aged 16-64 with high-risk medical conditions for severe COVID-19
  • Phase 1B: Frontline essential workers (including first responders, correctional officers, grocery store workers, education workers, public transit employees) and people 75 years and older
  • Phase 1C: Other essential workers (including food service employees, housing construction workers, legal services, government employees)
  • Phase 2: Everyone remaining over 16 years old**

You can find a full list of the phases and groups on the state website

Health systems, federally-funded community clinics, pharmacies and other providers are also receiving and administering vaccinations. While the county health department has encouraged these organizations to follow the state-recommended phases, providers are following their own interpretations of state guidelines.

*Note: Phase 1A initially only included health care workers and residents/staff of long-term care facilities. However, on Jan. 19, Pennsylvania updated its vaccination plan and expanded group 1A to include people aged 65 years and older, as well as those 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions. 

**Note: It is unclear when vaccinations for people under 16 may start because manufacturers are still testing vaccine safety in children.

Who can get vaccinated right now? 

Pennsylvania is currently in Phase 1A. The 1A group includes health care workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, people 65 years and older, and people aged 16-64 with high-risk conditions, such as cancer, certain heart conditions, and pregnancy.

You can take an online quiz from the state to determine if you are in 1A.

Some vaccine administrators are prioritizing certain populations within Phase 1A, and others continue to only vaccinate health care workers at this point. 

I’m a health care worker or employee/resident of a long-term care facility. How do I get a vaccine?

Health care workers: Hospital systems like UPMC and Allegheny Health Network have been vaccinating their employees. Both health systems are also required to dedicate 10% of their vaccines to health care workers outside their systems — UPMC and AHN both have sign-up pages. The health department is also vaccinating health care workers at its clinics in downtown Pittsburgh and Monroeville. 

Long-term care residents/staff: Vaccinations will likely be coordinated through your facility.

I’m over 65 or have a high-risk medical condition. How do I get a vaccine?

The county, pharmacies, and some area health systems have started to vaccinate some people in these groups. But given the fact that the vaccine supply remains extremely limited, you’ll very likely need luck and dedicated time to find a shot. 

Allegheny County Health Department: Has released a batch of appointments twice so far, but they’ve been snatched up both times in less than an hour. You can sign up for a “COVID-19 Vaccination Information” alert on the county website or follow the county health department on Twitter

As of Jan. 27, the county health department says due to the limited supply of vaccines, it’s only inoculating health care workers and people who are 65+. The county says it’s in the process of organizing clinics that will be held at senior high-rises, and in underserved communities.

Pharmacies: Have been receiving limited batches of vaccines. Visit the map on the state’s website (about halfway down the web page); green dots indicate facilities with available vaccines. Visit their websites or call and see if you can make an appointment. Some pharmacies have waitlist information on their websites. You will likely need to contact multiple facilities to find an available vaccine.

Health systems: Vaccinations are not widely available yet. AHN is vaccinating recent cancer patients over 75 years old. Heritage Valley Health System is vaccinating people who fall in their service area who are age 80 and older. UPMC has not yet made vaccines available to the general public. 

When will we get through Phase 1A?

It’s unclear; state and county officials have not yet offered a definitive timeline.

As of Jan. 28, state data show that around 16,500 county residents have been fully vaccinated, while another 50,000 have received their first shot. According to Dr. Debra Bogen, the Allegheny County health director, around one-third of the county is in Phase 1A. That’s roughly 400,000 people.

A county FAQ notes that phases 1A and 1B will take at least a few months, while, “Phase 2 could start by early spring, but it won’t likely be until summer that the vaccine is available to the general public.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and the U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, told NPR’s Morning Edition on Jan. 28 that people who are not in priority groups will “likely” be able to start getting vaccinated in April.

Liz Reid contributed to this report.