Three Democratic state Senators from the Delaware Valley and the state health secretary gave their reassurances to the public about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines during a virtual town hall Wednesday, while also answering questions about how its distribution is continuing to roll out.
The town hall with senators Carolyn Commita (D-19th), Tim Kearny (D-26th) and Steven Santarsiero (D-10th) mainly focused on distribution in the Southeast region of Pennsylvania. This was one of several town halls happening in the following weeks for all regions of Pennsylvania including two more for Southeast Pa.
“We recently passed a grim milestone in Delaware County, where over a thousand residents have died of COVID-19,” Kearny said. “This is as serious as it gets. We are working hard through the first phase of vaccination and preparing for the next steps of distribution.”
All three senators stressed the importance of continuing to wear a mask and practice social distancing while the vaccination is distributed.
“The COVID-19 vaccines are a major breakthrough as we know,” said newly elected senator Commita. “The more lives that we can save now through prevention the more lives we can protect later through vaccination.”
The conversation quickly moved to Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who explained the steps Pennsylvania is taking to fight against the virus and expressed her confidence in both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines approved by the FDA.
“I can tell you I have complete confidence in their safety and in their effectiveness,” Levine said.
Most of the questions asked during the town hall were about who qualifies for each of the four phases of distribution, and also when and how people are able to get the vaccine.
The distribution phase Pennsylvania is in right now is Phase 1A which is distributing the vaccine to all healthcare workers as well as people living in and working in long-term care facilities.
“To date we have immunized, for the healthcare worker immunizations, 159,216 individuals,” Levine said. “Overall we have immunized a little under 200,000 people in the last three weeks and all of that is continuing.”
Phase 1B includes all frontline workers as well as anyone above the age of 75. The next phase is 1C which is all essential workers, anyone between the ages 65 to 74 and anyone with any chronic medical conditions.
Phase 2 is for the rest of the general population 16 years old and older. Chester County’s website as well as the Bucks County website outlines who is considered to be in each phase of the distribution and where people can get the vaccine according to county guidelines.
When it comes to distributing the vaccine during phases 1B through 2, Levine said it would be through appointments only but they will not be requiring proof of qualifications either by medical conditions or occupations.
“For the most part we are going to be going on an honor system. You might be asked your age and have ID but it’s going to be hard to prove that you are in 1C and have cancer,” Levine said.
Levine also made it clear that there would be no cost for the vaccine if one were to get it at a mass site but there may be a cost, covered by insurance, if one were to go through a hospital or pharmacy.
“There should be no charge to anybody for this vaccine at any time,” Levine said. “The federal government will be working to purchase all of the vaccine itself. All insurance companies and Medicare and Medicaid etcetera will pay the administration cost and an arm of The Federal Health and Human Services will be paying for people with no insurance.”
As for the timeline of distribution Levine said it is only an estimate right now as more vaccines may become available in the next couple of months.
“I am hoping we will be finished 1A by the end of February beginning of March and be well into 1B and maybe even 1C by then,” Levine said. “I think that we should be able to finish 1B and 1C a little bit more into the spring so March into April and the general public by the end of the Spring certainty by the beginning of the summer.”
For now, Levine said it is unknown what percentage of people need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity and lift executive orders.
“For the foreseeable future we need to continue to need to wear masks, wash our hands and social distance,” Levine stressed. “There will be a future where we don’t have to do that but not right now.”
The PA Senate Democrats website has videos of the town halls already conducted, and people may register for any of the remaining town halls in the coming weeks.