The first COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in Pennsylvania next month, and a second could arrive in January, Secretary of State for Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday.
However, early supply will be severely limited, with initial doses reserved for frontline healthcare workers, first responders, the elderly and people living in group healthcare settings. In addition, the first expected vaccines will require two doses to be effective, which will further limit the supply.
Pennsylvania plans to distribute the vaccine in three phases, the second involving high-risk people not in the first phase and the third involving the general public. Vaccination will not be mandatory, although the state recommends it for most people.
Levine said Thursday she does not have a specific date, including exactly when the lots will arrive in Pennsylvania, when enough residents of the state will be vaccinated to end the COVID threat, and when Pennsylvanians are finally done. with things including wearing face masks and restrictions on business.
“We anticipate that we will be rolling it out throughout the winter and then into the spring and summer. Immunizing everyone in Pennsylvania could take a long time. I anticipate that we will be wearing masks until 2021, maybe until the end of 2021, ”she said.
Levine spoke in a day when Pennsylvania reported a state record of 7,126 new cases of COVID-19, with nearly 3,000 people in hospital and 628 in intensive care. The average daily COVID-19 hospital patient has increased by about 1,700 since the end of September, the health department said.
“We are going through a very difficult time, which is why we are talking about containment and mitigation and highlighting how things are going,” Levine said Thursday.
The good news, she says, is the promising results with two vaccines, one from Pfizer and one from Moderna. Both are in the final stages of testing, with efficacy rates of over 90% and few side effects. Pfizer is expected to seek emergency approval from the federal government this week, with Moderna on hand.
Pfizer, like Moderna, already manufactures the vaccine, which allows it to ship the vaccine shortly after its approval. Supply will be severely limited initially, however, with most of the needed doses not expected to reach states until next year.
Pennsylvania has a federally approved plan to distribute the vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which requires equipment normally only available in hospitals. As a result, healthcare systems will be largely responsible for its distribution, according to Levine. Moderna’s vaccine and others in development do not require ultra-cold storage, giving more flexibility in distribution, which should eventually involve community clinics and pharmacies.
Most vaccines require two doses, making record keeping and distribution difficult.
Levine said Pennsylvania was ready to distribute the vaccine as soon as it arrived, although the state needed more federal funding for certain “logistical” matters. This includes communicating with the public about the vaccine and ensuring that people are safe.
There have been concerns that the vaccine development process has been rushed and politicized. However, Levine said Thursday that she had confidence in the approval process and the safety of the vaccines, which were fueled by the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” a name Levine said worried.
“I feel very comfortable with this process. I feel comfortable with the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and will be encouraging everyone in the target groups, as we roll it out, to get the vaccine and forget the great name ” , she said.