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4 big Pennsylvania counties unhappy over vaccine share

March 8, 2021 GMT

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Four of Pennsylvania’s seven most heavily populated counties are airing their unhappiness over the size of their allotment of coronavirus vaccines, saying Monday that a meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf’s top health official did not resolve their concerns.

Leaders of Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties — home to more than 2.5 million people — called a Sunday meeting with acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam “disappointing and frustrating.”

They say less-populated counties in Pennsylvania have received disproportionately bigger allotments of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and that their smaller-than-expected allotments have led to long waiting lists, cancellation of second-dose appointments and frustration and anger among residents.

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They also said the state has been unable to clearly explain how it determined each county’s vaccine allotments.

Wolf’s Department of Health said Monday that the overriding problem with distributing the vaccine is that there is not enough to meet demand and that there has been no intentional shortchanging of any particular county.

It also said vaccination rates in the four counties are at or above the 15% rate across the rest of Pennsylvania.

County officials say that reflects suburbanites getting vaccinated in other jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, but a department official said that cross-border vaccination goes both ways.

Regardless, an updated formula instituted in February is helping to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccine to the counties, the department said.

“We know it’s difficult and there’s frustration getting appointments just because of the lack of vaccine overall nationwide, but we are working to make make sure people have access to the vaccine in an equitable and fair manner,” spokesperson Barry Ciccocioppo said.

The department has maintained that it distributes vaccines to counties based on a blend of total population, population over 65, COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Some aspects of the distribution system have created disproportionate shares, the department said.

For instance, lower allocations to certain counties may have resulted if hospitals there did not request doses in the first weeks of the distributions or if they could not meet the cold-storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine.

The department also said large health systems may have vaccines shipped to its flagship location and then redistribute doses to satellite facilities in surrounding counties. That makes it appear in the department’s weekly vaccine distribution spreadsheets posted online that some counties are getting a disproportionately large or small share, it said.

One example is Geisinger Health System in Montour County, the department said.

Still, the counties said, Beam told them that no county will be allowed to vaccinate people in Phase 1B before each county gets enough doses to fully vaccinate residents in Phase 1A who want the shot.

Ciccocioppo said he knew of no such promise.

“We are trying to make sure that people across all of the counties have equal access to the vaccine and that they are getting the vaccine at approximately the same rate, and that’s the goal that we are trying to accomplish at the department,” Ciccocioppo said.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/timelywriter.