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2021 News

State Shifts Elderly and High-Risk Citizens to Head of Vaccination Line

January 19, 2021

Media contact: Larry R. King, 215-348-6413, lrking@buckscounty.org

State health officials today made millions more Pennsylvanians immediately eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, abruptly moving older residents and those with high-risk medical conditions to the front of the line.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced that everyone age 65 and over and those at least 16 who have high-risk medical conditions are eligible. They join healthcare providers, emergency medical workers, and long-term care residents and staffers in a newly configured Phase 1A of the vaccine rollout.

The surprise announcement caught public officials and citizens off-guard, and widened the already large gap between the number of eligible residents and the available supply of vaccine.

The addition of over-65 citizens made about 2.4 million more Pennsylvanians eligible for Phase 1A of the state’s vaccine rollout, raising the statewide total of potential 1A recipients to 3.5 million. In contrast, Pennsylvania so far has received fewer than 1 million doses of the currently approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

"It is very frustrating that the federal and state governments keep identifying more and more citizens who are priorities for the vaccine without providing the vaccine or even any dates for possible deliveries," said Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia, chair of the Bucks County Commissioners.

"There are clearly supply chain issues that are beyond the control of county governments, but we are being left to explain this to a public that is growing increasingly frustrated," Marseglia said. "The federal and state governments need to tell the truth to citizens: they do not have anywhere near an adequate supply of vaccines."

Deputy Health Secretary Cindy Findley, who leads the state’s Vaccine Task Force, acknowledged that while the number of people eligible for vaccines is expanding, Pennsylvania’s allotment of vaccine doses from the federal government has not increased.

In Bucks County, where 12,938 partial vaccinations and 3,643 full vaccinations have been administered, County Commissioner Bob Harvie said the supply of vaccine received “is clearly not enough for those in the 1A category. Hospitals have been given doses, but not enough to vaccinate all those who have been suddenly moved into the 1A phase. The county is urging the state to provide us with more vaccine so we can make sure our residents get their doses.”

Since Jan. 12, the Bucks County Health Department, having received fewer than 4,000 doses of vaccine, has operated an appointment-only vaccination clinic for healthcare and emergency medical personnel. The clinic has been vaccinating between 300 and 400 people per day so far.

Previously, over-65 residents and those with high-risk conditions were slated to be part of the state’s Phase 1B, expected to begin sometime in February. For a list of the current 1A, 1B and 1C category criteria, including the high-risk conditions now considered for 1A status, visit the vaccine information portal on Bucks County’s website.

The portal includes a link where residents can pre-register for vaccines. Once registered, eligible residents can be contacted to schedule a vaccination appointment once sufficient supplies arrive.

The pre-registration link was activated Friday night; since then, more than 60,000 county residents have signed up. Those whose status changed today will be shifted from the 1B sign-up list to the 1A list; they need not pre-register a second time.

County officials said today that three free COVID testing sites at Bucks County Community College campuses are expected to be converted to vaccination sites in early February. The sites, along with two additional locations still to be named, will be operated through a continuing partnership with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, which has been running the three test sites.

The county also plans to assemble and dispatch smaller strike teams of medical professionals to visit and administer vaccines at senior citizen communities, Housing Authority properties, and locations that provide services to the homeless.

“We understand the confusion and anxiety people are experiencing,” Harvie said. “There is a lot of information being sent out, and every state has its own plan, which adds to the confusion. We are asking for patience while we work with the supplies we have been given."

Meanwhile, the rate of new COVID-19 infections continues to drop in Bucks County.

The state health department reported 387 new cases during Sunday and Monday, an average of 194 per day, for a pandemic total of 36,682. The seven-day rolling average fell to 260 per day, the lowest level since Nov. 15.

Forty-four Bucks County COVID deaths have occurred in January, raising the county’s pandemic death toll to 973.

A total of 167 Bucks County patients are hospitalized with COVID, 24 of them on ventilators. About 14 percent of the county’s adult ICU beds remain available, along with 31 percent of its adult medical surgical beds.

The county commissioners continue to urge the public to download the free COVID Alert PA app, which uses Bluetooth technology to let a person know that they have been exposed to COVID-19 without compromising the identity or location of either the person using the app, or of the person to whom they may have been exposed.

To see an interactive map showing Bucks County’s COVID testing locations, please click here.

To see an interactive map showing Bucks County cases reported in the past 30 days, please click here. 

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

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