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Eligible Pa. teens find it "impossible" to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment | FOX43 Finds Out

Certain teenagers who fall into phase 1A of Pennsylvania's vaccine rollout can only get the Pfizer version of the COVID-19 vaccine and they can't get an appointment.

RADNOR, Pa. — Post, after post, after post, parents all across Pennsylvania are now turning to each other for information about COVID-19 vaccines.

Under phase 1A, 16 to 64-year-olds are eligible for the vaccine if they have certain medical conditions. 

That includes Stacy Rigler's 16-year-old daughter.

"My daughter Maya is really amazing. She has survived childhood cancer. not once, but twice. For her especially, she has one remaining kidney. That Kidney does not function fully, she has chronic kidney disease. She's pre-diabetic. She doesn't have a spleen," said Rigler.

The Delaware County mom continued, "So while our doctors told us for children it's exceedingly rare to be sick, unfortunately she's had a lot of things happen to her that are exceedingly rare. and as a mom, when you've tried to keep your kid safe pretty much her whole life; We wanted to create a bubble around her."

When the Wolf administration expanded the expansion of phase 1A, the Rigler's started looking for appointments for Maya. 

Stacy said, "First we got to sign up, and then two days later in bright red letters on the Delaware county website it says 'Delaware county will only be getting Moderna.'"

Teens can't get Moderna or Johnson & Johnson

16 and 17-year-olds can't get the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccines.

Those are both for only people 18 and older.

That means the only shot certain teens can get right now is the Pfizer vaccine, which has emergency use authorization from the FDA for people 16 and up.

Rigler said, "I had heard anecdotally that the Pfizer vaccine is harder to store. so, it's more likely to be in a hospital. so, then I would try hospital systems but you needed a patient portal. Then the fun thing is if your not 18 you can't get a patient portal unless you're an existing patient."

Pfizer vaccines are not easy to find

The PA State Department of Health does release which facilities receive which vaccine. However, that could be doses that have already been administered or are scheduled for second shots. If you check the DOH vaccine provider map, it doesn't give you any filters to only search for Pfizer providers. 

Rigler started crowd-sourcing some data.

She started this spreadsheet in the "PA Covid Vaccine Match Maker Group," seeing if any 16 or 17-year-olds got the vaccine yet.

"The response was 1. There was one person in Pennsylvania who went to Atlantic City and was able to get it," she said. 

Rigler says she's not trying to cut the line by any means.

"There's a lot of people that need this vaccine first. People who are older, people who are in communities of color, people whose jobs require them in large contact with other people, and kids and teachers who haven't been in school for the entire year. I know there are other people who need it sooner than her, but it's really frustrating. you sort of wonder why did the government include them if there wasn't going to be a path for them?"

According to the PA department of health, and some other vaccine providers, they have administered vaccines to people in that age range, but not a lot. 

FOX43 Finds Out asked the DOH about what can be done for these teens

We were told it's up to the provider to work with the person who wants to get the shot. A spokesperson said, "Unless another location within their health system has the proper vaccine, the individual would either need to find another provider or wait until that provider receives the appropriate vaccine type to vaccinate." 

This means if a teen makes an appointment and there are no Pfizer doses available when they show up, they may need to start the process all over again.

Rigler believes that process just isn't working, saying "We need a system. we need our government to take control and make sure that it's not everybody out for themselves."

The Wolf administration has said a centralized system won't solve the problem of the lack of vaccine availability. 

Until there is a better fix, Rigler says she'll continue to search each day.

Here's what some local hospital systems say about vaccinating teens: 

Wellspan: "We have vaccinated 16 & 17 year olds in Phase 1A. We report all of our data up to DoH as far as how many. As for Pfizer versus Moderna, some of our 22 vaccination sites utilize Pfizer and the others utilize Moderna. When a patient goes to make an appointment through MyWellSpan.org, the system automatically only populates available locations for 16 and 17-year-olds that utilize Pfizer doses. This can also be done through our phone line when making an appointment. A series of questions are asked or populated by the system and they include age to make sure the right patients get the right dose at the right location. We hope to reopen our online and by-phone scheduling to Phase 1A patients as soon as we receive increased supply. You don't have to be a patient to register for MyWellSpan, or to get a vaccine from one of the 22 WellSpan locations. If you use MyWellSpan it will ask you a couple of questions to verify identity, but patients and non-patients alike can use it. You can even register now on MyWellSpan, and there is an option to receive an alert when more appointments become available on the site.  Additionally, there is the phone option where you can speak to a live person. Those details are found here: https://www.wellspan.org/covid19/covid-19-vaccine/."

Geisinger: We've provided the Pfizer vaccine to those who've qualified as part of the state's Phase 1A guidelines. Anyone age 16 or 17 who has already scheduled their first dose at Geisinger should keep their appointment. We receive vaccines from the Department of Health and have received allotments of the Pfizer vaccines at all of our community vaccine centers. Parents are encouraged to speak with their pediatrician or family doctor if they have questions about the COVID vaccine. Due to supply constraints, Geisinger stopped accepting new first-dose vaccine appointments in late January. 

Penn State Health: "We are not widely vaccinating 16 & 17-year-olds because current vaccine supply isn't predictable enough to reliably schedule people to get one version of the vaccine versus another. We are working on plans for dedicated vaccine days just for this age group – I will have more details to share on that as plans come together."

UPMC: "Our advice is similar to the Department of Health's in that parents should continue to work with their child's specialist or PCP on guidance."

Penn Medicine did not respond in time for the publishing of this story. 

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