Pa. plan for vaccine announced

HARRISBURG – Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine testified recently in front of the Senate, Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Transportation and Safety at a hearing on the logistics of transporting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“The introduction of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines will be a critical tool to combat the rampant viral spread in the United States,” Levine said in her testimony. “However, distributing the COVID-19 vaccine along with administrating it is a herculean effort.”

As Pennsylvania prepares to receive the vaccine, Levine emphasized the importance of continued containment and mitigation efforts to combat the virus, as well as continued collaboration. Levine also outlined the difficulties surrounding transportation and storage of COVID-19 vaccine in her testimony and highlighted the phases in which the vaccine will be distributed.

“The logistics of the vaccine distribution are complicated and the degree of coordination among federal, state, and local levels of government required for this enormous undertaking is unprecedented,” Levine said. “The direction and pace of each state’s vaccine distribution plan is determined by the individual jurisdiction characteristics, vaccine type, amount and availability. Transport of COVID-19 vaccines to the states will be the sole responsibility of Operation Warp Speed and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial health departments.”

“While we along with public health officials throughout the country spent countless hours preparing this mission is fraught with significant challenges that go well beyond just transporting the vaccine from point a to point b. The challenges to this effort include sufficient funding to rapidly execute a timely, comprehensive, and equitable vaccination campaign; coordination and communication between federal, state, and local health agencies; minimal state or local governmental public health pre-decisional involvement in key policy decisions such as the use of private sector pharmacy providers, including chain pharmacies, by the federal government to administer vaccines, all confounded by the lack of a coordinated communication strategy to promote confidence in the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Pennsylvania specifically focused our COVID-19 vaccine plan with deliberate intent to reach individuals of rural, ethnic, religious, homeless, differently abled, immigrant, refugee and LBGTQ populations. These efforts will be executed in close partnership with our Office of Heath Equity and already established community partners through our COVID-19 testing initiatives.”

“The department will distribute the vaccine in three phases, with Phase 1 divided to protect the highest risk or most critical workforce. In Phase 1a, when limited doses are expected initially, Pennsylvania will work with hospital systems to vaccinate priority populations of health care workers.

Pennsylvania will also work with the Pharmacy Partnership of CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate residents and staff in skilled nursing and assisted living facilities and personal care homes.

Phase 1b will include first responders and critical workers and utilize partnerships with pharmacies and Federally Qualified Health Centers to reach our rural settings.

In Phase 2 as more vaccine becomes available partnerships with Emergency Management agencies located in each county will be essential in coordinating community-based vaccination in those counties. This will be done through partnerships and unprecedented collaboration with providers and pharmacies who know their communities best.

In Phase 3 all persons of any age not previously vaccinated will have access to vaccine.