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Allegheny County Health Department Opens Its First COVID Vaccine Clinic In The Mon Valley

Sarah Boden
90.5 WESA
Rev. Earlene Coleman speaks at the opening of an Allegheny County-run COVID-19 vaccine clinic at her church, Bethlehem Baptist, in McKeesport.

Gov. Tom Wolf was at the opening of a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in McKeesport Wednesday.

Located at Bethlehem Baptist Church, it is the first site in the Mon Valley operated by Allegheny County's health department. The clinic will administer up to 200 shots per day, geared towards populations facing barriers to health care access.

The clinic’s opening comes as the state prepares to make the vaccine eligible to every Pennsylvanian who is age 16 or older on April 19. There are concerns this move will cause overwhelming demand, like what was seen in January when Pennsylvania drastically expanded eligibility despite limited amount of doses.

“We have a lot more supply, so I’m hoping that we don’t, and we’re planning not to have surprises and the logjams that we had the first time around,” said Wolf. “We think we can do this.”

Currently Pennsylvania is in phase 1B of the rollout; the vaccine is available to many frontline workers, such as postal and public transit employees, clergy and manufacturing workers. On Monday, the state transitions to phase 1C, making eligible those who work in a variety of fields, including legal services, public safety, media and banking.  

As supply becomes increasingly available, efforts are still needed to bring vaccine doses into underserved communities, and figuring out ways to vaccinate people who face technological, transportation, and mobility barriers.

“We are just overjoyed with this opportunity to be able to make a difference within our community,” said Bethlehem Baptist’s pastor Rev. Earlene Coleman.  “You have to do what you have to do to make sure that people are healed and that they are well.”

Nonprofit and religious organizations have been instrumental in helping marginalized people get vaccinated and combating vaccine hesitancy. Dr. Debra Bogen, director of Allegheny County’s health department, noted that Bethlehem Baptist is the second church to host a county-run COVID vaccine clinic.

“This pandemic has prevented us from gathering safely, and it has robbed us of collective comfort,” she said. “So, it’s appropriate that we utilize churches to vaccinate as many people as possible.”

Data from the state and Pittsburgh VA show that more than 485,000 Allegheny County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.  

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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.