Like most people, I was happy that Project Warp Speed led to some successful vaccines that protect against COVID 19 and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel was nearly here after almost a year of mask-wearing, shutdowns, missed holiday visits with my grandkids, and Zoom and Facetime instead of real-time.
So I put my name on Montgomery County’s list for my age group on Jan. 13 and also tried unsuccessfully for spots on the rosters of various pharmacies. Finally, I received notification and a “token” or code to use to fill out a reservation form for a date and time—March 5. What a relief!
Relief changed to dismay the night before that appointment when a text message from the county chimed my phone to say my appointment had been canceled. There was an email as well that said the same thing with no other details. Since I wanted the shot, I called the county’s vaccination hotline to see if I could be rescheduled soon instead of reapplying and going to the end of the line. It took several phone calls and a lot of time waiting on hold until I spoke to a very pleasant person who had no answers. However, she took my name and contact information and promised someone would get back to me. No one ever did.
But I kept trying the pharmacies and was able to get a shot scheduled about two weeks later. Someone mentioned that going to the drug store’s website just after midnight was the best time to try and that proved right. And now I’ve had my first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
While I know some people have successfully navigated the county system and received their shots, I know that I can’t be the only one subject to an unexplained glitch. As of March 24, the county has 89,325 people on its waiting list. Some 134,282 are partially vaccinated and 84,449 are fully vaccinated.
Montgomery County Minority Commissioner Joseph Gale blamed his political rivals for the cumbersome system.
“It’s no surprise that the Covid-19 vaccine distribution in Montgomery County has been a complete mess,” said Gale. “The vaccines are being distributed by a Democrat president, a Democrat Pennsylvania governor, and a Democrat-controlled Board of County Commissioners,” Gale said. “Therein lies the problem. If you want to spend a lot and get a little for it, elect Democrats.” Gale has thrown his hat into the ring for governor.
In her weekly COVID 19 talk on the web, Commissioners Chair Valerie Arkoosh said Montgomery County is “making slow but steady progress” on vaccinating residents. But she warned people not to let down their guard, saying the situation is still “serious” and noting that there is a “ways to go until there is herd immunity.”
Recently, all four suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia took issue with a state Department of Health plan to open one or two mass vaccination centers to serve residents of all four counties.
Officials from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties signed a letter to the DOH saying the doses should come directly to their vaccination clinics, rather than a new state-run site. But state officials responded by saying that they had been transparent in their actions and that they knew best how to allocate the precious commodity.
County officials also complained they had not received their fair share of the vaccines as compared to more rural areas of the state.
“We are extremely disappointed to hear that PA DoH is not considering our request to allocate the Johnson & Johnson vaccine directly to Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties,” the counties’ letter said in part. “We have reiterated our concerns about establishing a regional PEMA site for many reasons, and we remain deeply concerned that equitable distribution will be compromised at such a site. Instead of working with local elected officials and county Health Departments closest to the people we serve, the State has chosen to take the advice of a Boston logistics company to establish regional sites as our local mass vaccination sites sit underutilized. We have highly qualified public health and safety teams in place, high-volume locations secured, and more than 500,000 people waiting on our collective lists to get their shots. We just need more supply.”
By opening this site now, people will be confused and the most vulnerable residents could be deterred from receiving a vaccination, the counties also contended and asked the state to send the Johnson & Johnson doses directly to them rather than establishing another center.
In her letter responding, Alison V. Beam, DoH acting secretary, said that she reviewed the data when she took over from Dr. Rachel Levine, who is now assistant secretary of Health in the Biden Administration, and immediately took steps to ensure there were enough second doses of the Moderna vaccine statewide to “prevent a statewide, chaotic frenzy of second dose insecurity.”
“Specific to your constituents, the reality is that shots are getting into the arms of Pennsylvanians in significant numbers in the southeast: health care workers, nursing home residents, seniors, vulnerable individuals, and teachers in southeast counties are being vaccinated at a rate at or above the state average of 17% of individuals fully vaccinated,” Beam wrote. “Specifically, Bucks and Chester County are both at the statewide average of 17 percent, Delaware County is slightly higher at 18 percent, and Montgomery County stands at 22 percent.”
“The vaccine strategy is built upon a partnership with health care providers, not counties, to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to vaccines,” she added. “To be clear, the Commonwealth does not allocate vaccine to a county – we allocate it to providers within a county that deliver care regionally. It is inarguable that health care delivery, including obtaining a vaccine, is not restricted to county borders and vaccine allocation is not defined by county lines.”
Meanwhile, a state Department of Health spokeswoman said that the site or sites for the state mass vaccine clinics will be announced soon.
“The Department of Health is focused forward to help ensure that everyone eligible in Phase 1A will have a vaccination appointment scheduled by the end of March so that we can quickly move through Phases 1B and 1C to open eligibility to everyone by May.”