Not only are Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable caught in the middle of a vaccine tug-of-war between Montgomery County and Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, but the acrimony also threatens to derail the Keystone State’s ability to reach distribution goals set by the federal government. The county is requesting dramatic increases in supply from the state while the state is pushing the county to provide recommendations and support for a state-run mass vaccination site. Meanwhile, many Pennsylvanians can’t get an appointment.

The state announced all who qualify for phase 1A inoculation should be scheduled for an appointment by March 31. Approximately 127,000 people in Montgomery County are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but at the pace they are currently receiving supply it would take four to five months to inoculate them. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden wants to open eligibility to all adults by May 1. Montgomery County has more than 630,000 adults.

State and county officials differ on the most effective way to get shots in the right arms. This week, the county received 5,850 of the 10,530 Pfizer doses it requested. With a third site now open in Willow Grove, it has requested 23,400 doses for next week.

The site opens after weeks of Montgomery County asking for more vaccine from the state in order to supply Willow Grove and the existing sites.

“Happily, our supply increased slightly this week,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Dr. Valeria Arkoosh. “This is welcome news because now everyone who gets an appointment with us will be able to choose the location where they go to receive their vaccine from among the three sites that are currently open.”

County officials believe they have the capability and capacity to administer more than 23,000 doses a week to those who qualify for phase 1A, saying the only thing holding them back from doing so is the quantity of vaccine they are receiving.

“For next week we have requested 23,400 doses, the maximum amount that was allowed to be requested,” Arkoosh said. “I want to be clear that the county mass vaccination sites have the capacity to deliver more than 23,400 doses in a week but that was the maximum amount available to be requested,” Arkoosh said.

At the same time, the state is accusing Montgomery (along with Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties) of “wasting precious time” by requesting more vaccine supply for their county-run clinics rather than making a recommendation for a state-run mass vaccination site. The state believes its mass vaccination site can alleviate the volume concern for the counties, allowing them to focus the regional clinics on the imperative for equity in distribution.

“Creating that mass vaccination site has the intention of alleviating that volume pressure [the counties] are feeling so that they can narrow in on reaching their equity goals, which we likewise share with them and feel that they are actually best situated on to deliver,” acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said in a public comment.

While disappointed with the state’s stance, Montgomery and the other counties have agreed to make recommendations for the mass vaccination site.

And all vaccines are not created equally. The state hopes to use the lion’s share of its supply of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine at the mass vaccination site while Montgomery County has other plans.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to secure a fair share of this new supply of the J&J vaccine to target frontline workers, first reponders, and continue to work through our 1A waiting list,” Arkoosh said.

During a news briefing on Thursday, Beam said the state wants to use the J & J supply while the county clinics continue receiving the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

When addressing Biden’s goal of having everyone vaccinated who wants to be vaccinated in the United States by July 4, Arkoosh says she “would love” to meet that goal, but it all depends on whether the county receives more vaccine.

“The one piece that is not under our control here in the county is how many vaccines we receive,” Arkoosh said. “We did get some good news in the last several days about more J&J coming into our state and we are hopeful we will get a fair share of that vaccine and we will be ready to give it.”