As the nation marked over 500,000 lives lost to COVID early this week, folks all over the Delaware Valley ran into problems getting vaccinated against the disease.
“I can’t express how much work has been put into preparing for the distribution of the vaccines by the county government, and to have the tables turned and information changed constantly along the way is immensely frustrating,” said Delaware County Council member Elaine Paul Schaefer at last week’s public meeting. “People are looking to us for answers or solutions and the truth is, it’s completely out of our hands.”
After that meeting, Delaware County announced it had not received any vaccine for the week from the state, forcing the county to cancel all second-dose appointments.
Delaware County spokesperson Adrienne Markofsky said that between shipping delays for one of the vaccine manufacturers, Moderna, and a series of snow and ice storms that blanketed much of the country over the past two weeks, the result was a “lack of doses to all vaccine providers.”
To date, said Markofsky, Delaware County Council has requested 14,400 doses from the state and has received just 5,400 doses.
Last week in Bucks County, 2,000 residents found out they were not going to get their first dose of the COVID vaccine.
In Montgomery County, the vaccination clinic at the community college was closed Monday, Feb. 22. Those with appointments were rescheduled to March 1, but the Norristown Area High School clinic remained open.
All of this followed news from the state late last week that Pennsylvania was short about 100,000 vaccine doses.
But there is also encouraging news on the COVID-19 front.
The nation actually appears to be doing better in its fight against the disease.
Positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are down in recent weeks in much of the nation and in the Delaware Valley as well.
In a weekly briefing on the pandemic held by Montgomery County Commissioners, Chair Dr. Val Arkoosh noted many problems in getting vaccines out last week could be chalked up to winter weather.
“The snow and ice impacted distribution,” said Arkoosh, noting that Wednesday’s weather was spring-like and sunny. “Thankfully, it’s warmer today and hopefully stays this way for at least a little while.”
Arkoosh shared that Montgomery County had 837 positive COVID-19 cases this past week, an average of just under 120 a day. Montgomery County also lost 19 residents to the disease over the past seven days, she said.
“The numbers are going down,” said the chair, who is also a doctor. “But we all need to remember that social gatherings over the holidays caused a huge increase in cases, and that could happen again. This isn’t the time to lose our vigilance.”
Despite the hindrances of weather and getting shorted on vaccine shipments, people are being vaccinated. In the midst of all that winter chaos, the Black Doctors Consortium vaccinated 4,000 people in one 24-hour period at a weekend pop-up clinic in Philadelphia. In Chester County, 70 nurses and public health staff vaccinated 1,500 residents at West Chester State University on Saturday.
In Philadelphia alone, 186,065 first doses have been administered, and 92,011 second doses.
Montgomery County reports 31,080 first doses were received and of those 24,565 doses were administered already. But keep in mind, there are 172,824 people registered in that 1A category, just in Montgomery County.
Chester County Health Department, which also acts on behalf of Delaware County (which currently does not have its own health department), said the county had administered 16,524 first doses and 6,420 second doses.
Since much of the vaccine is being shipped to pharmacies, medical offices, and hospitals. If you widen the platform to include more than county health departments – the numbers get much bigger. Chester County lists 36,561 people receiving their first dose, with 18,077 getting their second doses via “Chester County Partners.”
The number of people registered here, as well, shows the county has a long way to go to get through the 1A or most vulnerable to the disease category. There are 97,869 people registered in Phase 1A on Chester County Health Department’s site.
“It is impossible to give an estimate on when individuals will be contacted for an appointment,” the Chester County Health Department states on its site. “We are booking appointments to match our supply.”
In Bucks County, administration officials report 37,834 people have received first-round shots and 23,485 are fully vaccinated.
To speed up the process and access for residents, Bucks County opened clinics at each of its three community college campuses – in Newtown, Perkasie, and Bristol, last week.
And systems are being put in place to reach people who are either hesitant about the vaccine or don’t have access to the internet to pre-register online.
In the case of Montgomery County, a series of virtual town halls have targeted Black, Latin American, and Hindu populations to answer questions about the vaccine and its safety.
Arkoosh announced Wednesday another system set up to reach seniors: A joint effort between the commissioners and the county Office of Senior Services to run a phone bank for seniors who need help pre-registering for vaccine appointments.
“I am pleased to announce that pre-registration for the COVID-19 vaccine is now available by phone through our COVID-19 hotline,” said the commission chair. “Now we can reach people who do not have the technology or the technical skills to navigate the online vaccination registration site on their own.”
It is an idea that the Office of Senior Services thinks will help a lot of older residents get pre-registered.
“The Montgomery County Office of Senior Services recognizes that technology access may be a significant barrier for older adults to use online vaccine appointment systems. Many of us are already helping older family members, friends, or neighbors in the vaccine process. For people who may not have that support in their life, there are kind, capable volunteers out there who want to help,” said Doreen Hespell, Administrator of the Office of Senior Services.
For Montgomery County residents, pre-registration for the COVID-19 vaccine by phone can be accessed through the previously announced COVID-19 hotline at (833) 875-3967. To connect with a volunteer, callers should let the agent know they would like support in pre-registering for a vaccine appointment. Volunteers are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to support callers in pre-registering for vaccine appointments. When a vaccine appointment becomes available, volunteers will call back to schedule the appointment.