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Vaccine providers brace for another surge of appointments

Vaccine providers in Pennsylvania are preparing for another wave of appointments after the state accelerated its vaccination eligibility timetable.
Credit: WPMT

COLUMBIA, Pa. — Vaccine providers in Pennsylvania are preparing for another wave of appointments after the state moved to Phase 1B and set up a timetable to make everyone eligible for the vaccine by April 19.

Pennsylvania stayed in Phase 1A for three and a half months.

About a third of Pennsylvanians—4.5 million out of a population of 12.8 million—were eligible to get the vaccine under Phase 1A.

Pennsylvania has vaccinated about a third of its population—31.8 percent—according to CDC data.

Now the remaining two thirds of the population will become eligible within a 20-day window.

On March 31 vaccine appointments were expanded to include police, corrections officers and other law enforcement; volunteer and professional firefighters; grocery employees; and food and farm workers.

On April 5 the remainder of Phase 1B becomes eligible. That group includes postal, public transit and manufacturing employees.

On April 12 Phase 1C begins to include workers in transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, communications and media, public health, legal services, finance and construction.

On April 19 vaccine eligibility opens to all adults.

“I do expect that when we open it up to many more people that we will become much more busy. It most certainly is going to be a challenge for vaccine providers. I think that it’s time, though, that we can open it up,” said Melissa Koehler, owner and pharmacy manager at Hillcrest Pharmacy and Compounding in Columbia.

The announcement comes as vaccine supply is rising.

The first weeks of vaccinations in December 2020 saw a mad rush of too many people vying for a limited number of vaccines.

Providers said they now had enough doses to run vaccine clinics at capacity. The challenge, they said, would be scheduling out appointments as quickly as possible.

“As we continue to get that consistent supply from the Department of Health, we’re able to schedule people out even further, potentially into May,” said Dr. Michael R. Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and the Lancaster vaccine site director.

Vaccinate Lancaster Coalition expects to begin running at full capacity starting the first week of April, when they expect to administer 3,000 first doses and 3,000 second doses per day.

Hillcrest Pharmacy has hired extra help to run its vaccine clinic in preparation for an uptick in appointments.

“We’ll be busy. It will be challenging,” Koehler said. “We not might sleep, but we’ll try our best.”

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