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Just 10% Of Pennsylvanians Who Are 65+ Have Gotten The COVID Vaccine

Gerry Broome
Martha Wilson, of Chapel Hill, gets a COVID-19 vaccine Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 in Pittsboro, N.C at Piedmont Health Senior Care, a federally qualified health center where PACE patients (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) and underserved popula

New analysis shows that just 10% of Pennsylvanians who are age 65 or older have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Last month Pennsylvania expanded its eligibility requirements to people in the 65+ age group, as well as people with certain health conditions, to bring the state inline with federal guidelines. The Trump Administration made this change despite shortages of vaccine supplies.  

The research on percentage of 65+ Pennsylvanians who have been vaccinated comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a California-based health policy nonprofit. Kaiser looked at data from 14 states and Washington, D.C., which all specifically track how many people in this 65+ age group have been vaccinated. Of those 15 jurisdictions, Pennsylvania ranks at the very bottom.

In comparison, one-third of West Virginians and more than 20% of New Jersey residents who are 65 or older have gotten at least one dose.

Kaiser also analyzed data from 13 states that track how many residents who are 60-plus have been vaccinated. The majority have surpassed the 10% mark — including Ohio and Maryland, which have so far vaccinated 15% and 18% of this age group, respectively.

Kaiser finds that in general Pennsylvania is falling behind most other states when it comes to administration of the vaccine. Out of all 50 states and DC, Pennsylvania ranks 46th, meaning the majority of states are much faster at administering the vaccine once providers in those states have been shipped and received vaccine doses from manufacturers. 

The Wolf Administration has continued to say that it’s not possible to make "an apples-to-apples comparison” of Pennsylvania's vaccine rollout to other states. 

"Pennsylvania has one of the highest populations of seniors in the country, yet we have been receiving a weekly allotment of vaccine averaging just over 150,000 doses," said Barry Ciccocioppo, the state health department's COVID Press Secretary, in an emailed statement. 

Ciccocioppo also noted that 83% of first-dose vaccine allotments shipped to Pennsylvania been administered. Based on state data, this means that more than 148,000 first doses of the vaccine have not been administered. 

Florida and West Virginia also have large elderly populations, yet those states have vaccinated larger percentages of vaccinated senior residents than Pennsylvania. 

"Additionally, unlike the approach of some states," said Ciccocioppo, "Pennsylvania has taken steps to secure the second dose of vaccine so that providers and patients can rest assured that second doses will be ready at the appropriate time."

Ciccocioppo did not explain what those steps were or how this might cause  the percentage of Pennslyvania seniors to be lower.

At a Friday press conference, state health department senior advisor Lindsey Mauldin said, "Providers do not have to set aside the vaccine they recieve for first doses to ensure there is a second dose. We have purposely included your second dose into our allocation stradegy."

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.