State Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levin said on Thursday that the first vaccine for the Covid-19 virus could arrive in Pennsylvania next month, and the second vaccine could arrive in January.
However, early supply will be very limited, with initial doses reserved for frontline health care workers, first responders, the elderly, and people living in group health care settings. Additionally, the first expected vaccines will require two doses to be effective, which limits the supply.
The state of Pennsylvania plans to distribute the vaccine in three phases, the second phase includes people at high risk not included in the first phase, and the third includes the general public. Vaccination will not be mandatory, although the state will recommend it to most people.
Levin said Thursday that she does not have specific dates, including exactly when batches will arrive in Pennsylvania, when enough state residents will be vaccinated to end the threat of COVID, and when Pennsylvania will finally end with things like wearing face masks and restrictions on companies.
“We expect we’ll roll this out during the winter and then in the spring and summer. It could take a long time for everyone in Pennsylvania to get vaccinated. I expect we’ll be wearing masks well until 2021, and maybe until the end of 2021,” she said.
Levine spoke in a day when Pennsylvania has reported a state record of 7,126 new cases of COVID-19, With nearly 3,000 people in hospital and 628 in intensive care. The Ministry of Health said the daily rate of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased by about 1,700 since late September.
“We are in a very difficult time, which is why we’re talking about containment, mitigation, and emphasis on how it works,” Levin said on Thursday.
She said the good news is the promising results of the two vaccines, One from Pfizer and one from our Moderna. Both are in the final stages of testing, with rates of over 90% efficacy and few side effects. Pfizer is expected to seek emergency approval from the federal government this week, as our Moderna gets closer.
Pfizer, like Moderna, is already manufacturing the vaccine, enabling it to ship the vaccine shortly after approval. However, supply will be severely limited at first, with the bulk of the required doses not expected to arrive for the states until sometime next year.
Pennsylvania has a federally approved vaccine deployment plan. Pfizer vaccine should be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, which requires only equipment normally available in hospitals. As a result, health systems will be largely responsible for their distribution, according to Finn. Moderna and others’ vaccine in preparation does not require extremely cold storage, which gives more flexibility in distribution, which is expected to eventually include community clinics and pharmacies.
Most vaccines require two doses, which increases record keeping and distribution challenges.
Levin said Pennsylvania is ready to distribute the vaccine as soon as it arrives, although the state needs more federal funding for some “logistics” matters. This includes communicating with the public about the vaccine and making sure it is safe.
There was concern about the acceleration and politicization of the vaccine development process. However, Levin said on Thursday that she trusted the approval process and vaccine safety, which the Trump administration fueled “Operation Warp Speed,” a name Levine said has raised some concern.
“I feel very comfortable with the process. I feel comfortable with the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and will encourage everyone in the target groups, as it rolls out, to get the vaccine and forget the rhetorical name.”