Vaccines could start making impact soon, Farley says

Vance Williams, a SEPTA employee, receives the coronavirus vaccine at one of FEMA's Community Vaccination Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Philadelphia’s health commissioner said Tuesday that the rate of vaccinations could soon bring down the number of coronavirus cases and deaths, and he suggested the city could reach “herd immunity” by June.

The opening of the federally-backed inoculation site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center has greatly accelerated the pace of the vaccination campaign.

About 51,000 doses were administered in Philadelphia during the week ending Feb. 28, compared to more than 90,000 last week, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency began operating at the Convention Center.

“I think we’re close now to where we may be having enough and so we’re going to change the trajectory of the number of cases we have per day,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said. “And maybe even sooner, start to change the trajectory of the number of deaths we have.”

Philadelphia has been allocated 41,000 doses from the federal government this week, including about 6,000 that are being sent directly to pharmacies. An additional 42,000 are being distributed to the FEMA site.

Farley said the city could get to herd immunity — when generally 70 to 80% of the population has antibodies either through the vaccine or COVID-19 infection — this summer.

“I would be hopeful by June, but please don’t hold me to that,” he told reporters.

He said the operation at the Convention Center is going “extremely well,” inoculating an average of 5,908 people a day since it opened at full capacity last Wednesday. Officials have set a target of 6,000 daily vaccinations.

A man is inoculated at the FEMA mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

A software issue that allows people who received emailed invitations to share appointment links should be fixed by Wednesday, according to Farley.

But, he said, sending out links that can’t be forwarded is a slower process, so the health department has begun calling high-risk people on the phone to set up appointments.

The city is also collaborating with Medicaid managed care organizations and enlisting community groups to reach more residents who are eligible for a vaccine.

Most appointments are being set up by email through the city’s vaccine interest form. More than 300,000 people have signed up, and at least 70,000, or 23%, have been vaccinated, Farley said.

“We are gradually working our way through that database,” he added.

Go to www.phila.gov/vaccineinterest to get added to the database. Residents without internet access can call 311.

Nearly 300,000 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Philadelphia, and 124,578 people have completed the two-dose regimen, according to health department data.

Officials said three new city-run vaccine sites will open next week, with three additional locations scheduled for the following week.

On Monday, Simon Gratz High School in Nicetown will start distributing vaccines, and, in the days after, the EOM Athletic Association in Pennsport and the Grand Yesha Ballroom in South Philadelphia will open as inoculate sites.

Cannstatter Volksfest-Verein German American Club in Northeast Philadelphia and a building at 7800 Ogontz Avenue in East Mount Airy will be added to the list during the week of March 22, along with a yet-to-be-determined site in West Philadelphia.

Each site will administer 400 to 500 doses a day, Farley said.

Similar clinics have already been running at the Community Academy Charter School, MLK Older Adult Center and the University of the Sciences.

In all cases, residents are being invited through the vaccine interest form.

Case counts, meanwhile, have been creeping up.

Last week, Philadelphia averaged 260 COVID-19 cases a day with a 4.4% positive test rate, compared to the prior week’s 258 daily infections and 3.5%.

“Our case counts are rising over the past two weeks,” Farley said. “This is a period when we need to be careful.”

Officials reported 330 confirmed cases, 97 probable cases and 12 virus-related deaths Tuesday.

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