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Leaders raise questions over how the Pa. Department of Health allocates vaccines

With some health systems receiving far greater vaccine allocations, Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons wants to know how the DOH makes its decisions.

LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — Many people have reported issues while trying to get their COVID-19 vaccine: Driving more than an hour away to get theirs, appointments filling up too fast, or finding that none are actually available.

It's not just those people eligible for the shots raising concerns over the process; leaders in Lancaster County want to know how the Pennsylvania Department of Health decides how much to distribute.

"I think it's strange that Lehigh Valley Health System, it's on the DOH's website, that they got allocated 67,000 doses," said Commissioner Josh Parsons.

According to officials, the site would allow for large numbers of people to receive their COVID-19 vaccine so long as the DOH allocates enough doses. LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. - During a press conference at the Lancaster County Public Safety Training Center, commissioners and health officials released preliminary details on a mass vaccination site set for Lancaster County.

We're hearing a lot about the Lehigh Valley Health Network.

"Nothing against Lehigh Valley," said Commissioner Ray D'Agostino.

The commissioners want to know why the DOH has allocated so many doses of the vaccine to the health system which serves an area with fewer people than Lancaster County.

On a list of vaccine inventory distributed to health systems, Lehigh Valley Health Network is at the top with the highest number of vaccine doses. Allegheny County's UPMC Presbyterian in Pittsburgh is second highest with 20,375. With a population of a little more than 369,000 people as of 2019, according to federal data, Lehigh County has 170,000 fewer people than Lancaster County's 545,000 people and counting. Now, compare the 67,000 doses allocated to Lancaster General Hospital's 14,800. 

"There may be a reason for it, but we want to understand it. I think it's a question for this administration," stated Parsons.

It's worth noting: Dorney Park in Allentown [Lehigh County] is one of the first mass vaccination sites in the state. The clinic is being run by volunteers with the Lehigh Valley Health Network. Meantime, Lancaster County is in the process of setting up its own mass vaccination center. At this point, few details, including the location, have been disclosed.

"When you look at that healthcare network in particular, it does serve Lehigh County, Luzerne County, Monroe County, Schuylkill County, and many of the rural areas," explained April Hutcheson, communications director for the DOH.

Even though, it's one health system, LVHN serves 7 counties total through 8 different hospitals, multiple health centers, physician practices, and other outpatient centers.

"They're getting the vaccine at a hub, and they are having clinics at the spoke. They let us know where those clinics are, and we're making sure the vaccine is getting to those clinics where they are supposed to be," added Hutcheson. "Part of this is equity and making sure it is getting to rural communities and areas where there are medical and healthcare deserts."

FOX43 asked the DOH how it determines the amount health systems receive. We received the DOH's step-by-step process through email:

  • The Operation (formerly Operation Warp Speed) shares with the DOH how much vaccine will be allotted for the week.
  • DOH distributes a survey to enrolled providers and counties to determine their vaccine request.
  • DOH reviews the surveys requests and creates a list of interested vaccine providers for the week.
  • DOH uses a formula to determine how to allocate vaccine among counties/providers based on factors including: their current allocations, amount on hand for distribution, amount administered, population, percent positivity and death rate.
  • DOH provides information to vaccine providers about how much vaccine they will receive.
  • Final orders are submitted to CDC/The Operation
  • Vaccine is shipped directly from the manufactures to the vaccine providers via UPS/FedEx.
  • Once received, vaccine providers “check-in” the vaccine through DOH.
  • Vaccine providers deliver the vaccine to residents currently eligible in phase 1A of the vaccination plan.

Through January 30:

  • 1,814,850 doses of the vaccine will have been allocated/received by providers.
    • 930,150 first doses will have been allocated.
      • 719,928 of the first doses will have been administered.
    •  884,700 second doses will have been allocated.
      • 173,328 of the second doses will have been administered.

A spreadsheet of facilities that have received vaccine can be found here.

"Nationally, Pennsylvania ranks about 5th for the first doses administered and in the top 10 for the second doses administered," explained Hutcheson. "We want to make sure Pennsylvanians know we are working to secure your second dose of vaccine and make sure you can get it."

Officials say the Biden Administration is increasing vaccine allotment next week. They anticipate 160,000 additional first dose shots to be split up among the vaccine providers. To put that into perspective, there are more than 1,000 vaccine providers across the Commonwealth which have requested 700,000 doses of vaccine.

DOH COVID-19 press secretary Barry Ciccocioppo wrote:

We know that there is significant interest among all Pennsylvanians about when they will get vaccinated. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is working to ensure that everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can get it. We must have patience as the amount of vaccine available to Pennsylvanians is extremely limited.

However, we urge people to have patience as the amount of vaccine available to Pennsylvanians — and every state — is currently extremely limited, but there will be more vaccine in the future.

Keep in mind that this is a global issue and manufacturers are working to produce enough vaccine for the world’s population.

Right now more than 4 million Pennsylvanians are eligible for the vaccine. They will each need two doses (8 million doses), but Pennsylvania has only received about 1.8 million doses so far.

As of yesterday, local vaccine providers have administered more than 893,089 doses of vaccine to people across Pennsylvania (an increase of 55,272 from the day before). We have a long way to go, but vaccine providers are working hard and making progress.

In the coming months there will be enough vaccine for every Pennsylvania who wants it.

While we wait for more vaccine to be made available to Pennsylvania it is so important to remind your readers to wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance and download the COVID Alert mobile app to your smart phone.

You can view Pennsylvania's COVID-19 dashboard and county by county information on vaccine administration by following this link.

According to information on the DOH's website, the CDC allocates COVID-19 vaccine according to the following guidance:

  • Allocations will be calculated pro-rata based on the size of the jurisdiction’s population and the quantity of ready-to-ship doses from manufacturer(s).
  • Allocation amounts will be communicated to jurisdictions weekly. These allocations will be immediately available for ordering.
  • If a jurisdiction does not order the full allocation, the remainder will roll over for future ordering. Unused allocations will not be reallocated to other jurisdictions.

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