Philadelphia officials said Tuesday that more pharmacies will be offering the coronavirus vaccine in the coming days, and they provided an avenue for restaurants to boost their indoor capacity.
Three Shoprite stores and 11 Walgreens pharmacies in the city are inoculating residents, and Rite Aid will be distributing vaccines at 77 of its Philadelphia locations by the weekend, officials said.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the city plans to use the pharmacies to target people ages 75 and older, and he asked younger residents to go elsewhere to get vaccinated.
“The systems won’t easily screen you out, but that’s not what this is about,” he said Tuesday. “If you do go there and you’re younger, then you’re basically preventing somebody else who is over the age of 75 from being vaccinated.”
Elderly residents can reach out to the pharmacy chains and register on the city’s vaccine interest website at phila.gov/vaccineinterest.
Philadelphia is slated to receive about 24,700 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines this week, an increase of about 4,000 compared to last week’s shipment.
An additional 4,000 doses are being sent directly to Rite Aid stores in the city as part of a federal pharmacy partnership.
So far, 121,250 people in Philadelphia have received at least one dose, and 50,000 have received both doses. Vaccination teams have visited 83 nursing, personal care and assisted living homes, officials said.
A new vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson, is expected to arrive in the city March 1 if it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration later this month, Farley said.
The J&J product is a one-dose inoculation that does not need to be frozen. It was 66% effective in worldwide trials at preventing COVID-19 infection and 85% effective against serious illness, according to the company.
It’s not as protective as the other two vaccines approved for use in the U.S., which are both about 95% effective, but it still provides a good defense against the virus, Farley said.
He anticipates Philadelphia will initially receive 5,000 to 10,000 doses of the J&J shot.
City-run mass vaccination sites will open Feb. 22, and officials on Tuesday revealed the locations of those first clinics.
Doses will be distributed at the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School in Harrowgate; the Martin Luther King Older Adult Center in North Philadelphia; and the University of the Sciences in West Philadelphia.
Vaccines will likely be offered at those locations on a recurring basis, Farley said. People who filled out a vaccine interest form on the city’s website will be contacted to schedule appointments.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health is planning to host six mass clinics a week, half of which will be reserved for second doses.
Teachers, other school personnel and daycare employees will begin getting inoculated the week of Feb. 22, Farley said, thanks to a city partnership with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Schools will be providing staff lists to CHOP, and employees will be directed to contact the hospital to set up a time at CHOP’s Roberts Center for Pediatric Research or six other to-be-determined school-based sites.
Officials estimate 20,000 people will be vaccinated as part of the school effort, and CHOP plans to complete the inoculations in eight weeks.
Some teachers in the School District of Philadelphia were supposed to report to schools Monday in preparation for the return of pre-K to 2nd grade students Feb. 22.
However, that process has been delayed, as the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has triggered a mediation process to determine whether school buildings are safe to reopen. No decision had been issued at the time Metro went to press.
The PFT and many educators have expressed a desire to be vaccinated before returning to in-person classes; however, Farley said he believes safety precautions are enough to prevent significant spread in schools.
“If we wait until every teacher is vaccinated to open up school and get kids back, we may miss the entire school year,” he told reporters.
Mayor Jim Kenney said Tuesday that he is in talks with trade unions about working together on projects to renovate aging school buildings.
Window fans, which have been deployed by the district to improve airflow, have been criticized by teachers and parents, but Farley said they are a “great solution” to ventilation issues.
In fact, the health department has been advising restaurants without HVAC systems to stock up on fans.
Starting Friday, eateries that meet a set of air quality standards will be able to expand from 25% to 50% capacity for indoor dining.
In order to get approved, restaurants must submit a form to the city saying their HVAC system circulates at least 20% outdoor air; has a MERV rating of 11 or higher; and has at least 15 air exchanges an hour.
Establishments that use fans must meet the air exchange requirement.
Farley said his department aims to review applications within 72 hours. All of the data will be self-reported and checked during routine inspections or complaint-related calls.
“We are breaking new ground,” Farley said. “We are not aware of other locations that have done this, but we do think this is a way to try to have restaurants get back on their feet economically.”
COVID-19 cases, meanwhile, continue to decline in Philadelphia. Last week, the city averaged 303 cases a day with a 6.2% positive test rate, compared to the previous week’s 371 cases and 6.3%.
City officials reported 473 new infections, 99 probable cases and eight virus-related deaths on Tuesday.