Can you say, “We fucked up, boys and girls?”
I knew ya could!
For weeks, state officials have been blaming much of Pennsylvania’s slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout on providers unnecessarily holding back doses to make sure people got second doses when needed.
In fact, they forcefully urged providers not to hold back doses, assuring them the second of the two required doses would be available when needed.
Yet on Wednesday, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam announced providers since early January have been giving out second doses of the Moderna vaccine as first doses, characterizing it as a significant mistake. More than 100,000 people could be affected, Beam said.
Because of the error, Beam said up to 60,000 people could have to reschedule appointments, and up to 55,000 others might be delayed in getting their initial doses.
While not fully reconciling the apparent conflict in guidance, Beam laid out the details while also saying the state can adjust so that everyone gets their second dose within an acceptable time frame. There is no medical difference between the first and second doses, so the situation should provide no immediate health danger, she noted.
Beam refused to assign blame, although she suggested the state health department is at least partly responsible.
“What we are working on is making sure our department, our communication, our transparency, our end of the bargain is improved upon.”Alison Beam
PA Acting Health Secretary
Beam said the problem only involves the Moderna vaccine, one of two vaccines distributed so far, with the other being the Pfizer vaccine.
She said the mistake began in early January, with the consequences “compounding each week.”
The state recently discovered the problem, she said, when the weekly request for second Moderna doses equaled the entire supply received so far.
Beam also said the mistake can be corrected with little or no harm. That can largely be accomplished by rescheduling appointments for second Moderna doses. While people generally receive their second dose within about 28 days, Beam said some could wait up to 42 days for their second dose, which would still fall under federal guidelines.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the second Moderna doses are fully effective if given within 42 days of the first shot; there is limited research on its effectiveness beyond 42 days, the CDC said last week.
Beam said her department has found unused inventories around the state to help fill the void. She further expressed confidence the federal government will provide doses within the needed time frame. She said she expects the two sources will allow the 30,000 to 60,000 people who are affected to get their second dose within the appropriate time frame.
She further pledged the health department in conjunction with vaccine providers will make sure people are contacted and their appointments are rescheduled. She said appointments will need to be moved to the following week “or at most two weeks” from the original appointment.
In a strained briefing with news reporters, Bean didn’t detail how the situation squares with the fact her department for weeks has been telling providers not to hold back second doses and assuring them a second dose, from a separate supply, will be available when needed.
However, she said the situation has been discussed with the new legislative task force formed to improve Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout and it agrees with the response she detailed. She said the task force, just formed last week, has met three times to improve communication and address issues with the vaccine rollout.
“All of us are focusing on the path forward, and the fix directionally moving Pennsylvania forward as well.”Alison Beam
PA Acting Health Secretary
Beams further called the situation “a stark reminder that right now, there is not enough vaccine for everyone who is eligible to get it.”
Pennsylvania has so far given vaccine doses to about 1.7 million people, including about a half-million who have received the two doses needed to be fully protected.
This week it will receive 183,575 first doses, along with 143,275 second doses. The vaccine supply has been growing, although slowly, with this week’s allocation having increased by about 8,000 doses from last week, a state official said Wednesday.
In a separate news conference Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Tom Wolf said his administration will work to ensure those who need the second dose will get it. He also said there’s no doubt that there will be other ways the vaccine rollout can improve in the future.
“We will look for ways and find ways to make the system work even better.”Tom Wolf