Vaccinations to begin at PA nursing homes

Thousands of doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived this week at Philadelphia hospitals.
PHOTO: Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services

Nursing home residents, a group that has generally been recognized as the most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus, will start getting vaccinated this week in Pennsylvania.

State Health Secretary Rachel Levine said inoculations will begin at 126 facilities in the coming days as part of a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens to administer the vaccine to nursing home staff and residents.

Additional information on which facilities will be among the first to receive the vaccine is expected to be released Tuesday.

CVS, which is handling nearly all of the nursing homes this week, has signed agreements with more than 2,200 long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania, and the company said it is prepared to inoculate nearly 280,000 residents and staff across the state in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said officials expect to get reports on the number of doses administered at facilities in the city, but that they have not received that data yet.

Once staff and residents at skilled nursing homes have received their injections, the pharmacies will move on to other long-term living facilities, such as assisted-living homes and residential centers for people with intellectual disabilities, Levine said.

She noted that the vaccine is voluntary, and permission from a guardian will be required if a resident is unable to give consent.

A portion of the state’s Pfizer allotment will be directed toward the nursing home effort. It’s all part of the vaccine’s first phase, 1A, which also includes healthcare workers. Levine estimated that at least 1 million Pennsylvania residents fall into the top priority group.

The hope is that the general public will begin receiving the vaccine in late spring or early summer, after essential workers, elderly people and those with underlying medical conditions are immunized, she said.

“This vaccine process will take some time, and it’s particularly dependent on how much vaccine we receive each week from the federal government,” Levine said.

So far, 72,763 healthcare employees have been inoculated in the state, not counting those who have received the vaccine in Philadelphia, which is independently overseeing its own distribution.

Hospitals outside the city are slated to receive an additional 47,775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 26,100 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of the week, Levine said.

Pennsylvania over the weekend surpassed 15,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic; however, case statistics seem to be decreasing slightly.

The state’s positive test rate has fallen from 15.8% to 15.1%. About 5,900 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized across the state.

In Philadelphia, there are 784 hospitalizations, and the city reported new 1,504 confirmed cases and 13 deaths since Christmas Eve.

Levine credited the state’s mitigation orders, in effect since Dec. 12, for curbing numbers that had been increasing rapidly.

During a virtual briefing Monday, reporters peppered her with questions about whether the restrictions, which include a ban on indoor dining and gyms and a 10-person limit on indoor gatherings, would be lifted as planned Jan. 4.

“We’ll be having those discussions with the governor’s office and making our recommendations, obviously, this week in preparation for January 4th,” Levine said.

Philadelphia has been under a similar set of measures since Nov. 20, and, last week, city leaders extended prohibitions on indoor dining, theaters, casinos and indoor sports to Jan. 15.

They left open the possibility that gyms, museums, in-person high school classes and other activities could resume next week, if Gov. Tom Wolf allows the state’s measures to expire.

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