Pennsylvania is preparing to tackle President Joe Biden's new plan for the pandemic without the help of a critical member of the team: PA Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, who is set to become the new U.S. assistant health secretary.
"What we've heard from the federal government is what I would say is a renewed effort to want to help us," said Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Executive Deputy Director Jeff Thomas. "We had reach out from our partners at FEMA letting us know that they would certainly be open to any projects that we might have that they may be interested in helping to fund for vaccine distribution."
Thomas said PEMA is working alongside the PA Dept. of Health not only to distribute PPE but also doses of vaccine. He said PPE has become more widely available in recent months. But, he acknowledged available doses of the vaccine remain low.
"The limiting factor with all of this is the supply chain of vaccine," he said.
With people 65 and older now eligible for the vaccine, the demand has skyrocketed with many people who attempting to schedule an appointment through the state website. Yet, many have been met with online waiting rooms or emails apologizing that appointments are no longer available at certain locations.
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"It's a finite number that Pennsylvania gets every week. That needs to increase. That really needs to increase greatly to be able to provide the level of vaccines that all of us want to provide to Pennsylvania citizens," said Thomas.
Thomas said FEMA is working with the PA Dept of Health to set up vaccination clinics within communities that do not have enough vaccine providers.
However, health leaders will have to forge ahead with their plans without the help of one key asset, Dr. Rachel Levine.
"I think the country as a whole is going to be in much better hands now with Rachel in her new position," added Community and Economic Development (DCED) Secretary Dennis Davin.
"She is going to be tremendously missed. But, she has also done a great job in mentoring folks and bringing folks along," said Thomas. "They're big shoes to fill. Whomever's going to fill those shoes really has their job ahead of them. But, she has really laid the groundwork on how we're going to combat this virus in Pennsylvania."