BUCKS COUNTY >> Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam on Wednesday, March 31 announced an accelerated schedule for COVID-19 vaccinations that makes everyone age 16 and older eligible by April 19.
Beam also disclosed that the state is abandoning its plan to open regional vaccination sites, including one serving Bucks and Montgomery Counties. Instead, it will send its available supply of one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine to individual counties for them to administer.
For the Bucks County Health Department, Beam’s announcement could add thousands of additional doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to its supply. The health department currently is receiving roughly 8,000 weekly doses of first-round Pfizer vaccine from the state for use at its four mass vaccination clinics.
“I am thrilled to hear that Bucks County may receive the J&J doses,” said County Commissioners’ Chair Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia. “This would make a huge difference in our ability to target and reach vulnerable populations and to help move the list of vaccinated Bucks Countians along.”
However, a report in the New York Times late today cast uncertainty on how long the flow of J&J vaccine could last. The newspaper revealed that mistakes made several weeks ago at a Baltimore manufacturing plant had ruined about 15 million doses of the vaccine, throwing future shipments of J&J doses into jeopardy.
State officials have assured the county that the destroyed doses were not part of next week's Bucks allocation, but implications for the rest of April aren't yet known.
The report came hours after Beam announced a stepped-up schedule for setting vaccination appointments for all Pennsylvanians.
Beam said that four targeted occupational groups would be made immediately eligible for vaccine:
- Law enforcement, including police officers, sheriff’s deputies, constables, prison officers and staff, and probation and parole workers;
- Firefighters, both paid and volunteer;
- Grocery store workers
- Food and agriculture workers, including farmers and workers involved in food processing and packing operations
Starting Monday, April 5, all residents eligible for Phase 1B will be allowed to schedule vaccinations, followed by residents eligible for Phase 1C on April 12. And on April 19, all residents ages 16 and older will be eligible for vaccination, two weeks ahead of the goal set by President Biden.
“It is important to remember that eligibility does not guarantee an immediate vaccination appointment,” Beam said. “Vaccine providers are ready and eager to get a shot in the arm of every person who wants one while we continue to aggressively advocate for more vaccine."
At a mid-day news conference, Beam asserted that in most Pennsylvania counties, at least 90 percent of all residents who are eligible for the 1A phase of the vaccine rollout and who want to be vaccinated have received at least an initial dose.
In Bucks County, which has an adult population of about 508,000, providers have administered almost a quarter-million doses of vaccine, enough to fully vaccinate 83,266 people and partially vaccinate another 82,426.
“Agencies and departments across Bucks County have worked hard on our vaccination efforts for many months,” said Commissioners’ Vice Chair Bob Harvie. “To date, the equivalent of 33 percent of Bucks County’s adult population has received at least one dose of vaccine through various providers, and the county itself is administering thousands of doses a day.
“We are looking forward to using this new allocation of vaccine to protect our residents and end this pandemic,” Harvie said.
Four mass vaccine clinics operated through a county partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare have administered more than 46,000 doses since mid-February, including almost 14,000 last week alone.
A fifth site is expected to open within the coming week, further expanding the county’s vaccination capacity.
In keeping with Beam’s revised schedule, Bucks County will be posting a new appointment-scheduling link by April 1 on the county’s vaccination information portal.
The county is removing its wait list and will notify those who pre-registered for the 1B or 1C phases when they are eligible to make an appointment. A link for those who are eligible now and wish to schedule an appointment will also be posted on Thursday.
The scheduling changes come amid continuing increases in new infections across the nation, including Pennsylvania. The state reported 265 new cases in Bucks County on Tuesday and a rolling seven-day average of 271 cases per day.
COVID hospitalizations have increased by roughly 50 percent over the past week. Ninety-three COVID patients are being treated in Bucks County hospitals, 26 of them in intensive care and nine on ventilators.
Statistics, charts, links to state health department data and other coronavirus-related information can be found on the county’s data portal: https://covid19-bucksgis.hub.arcgis.com