Harrisburg, Pa. – Governor Tom Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine responded to inquiries about the COVID-19 vaccine's safety and the speed of vaccine distribution across the state during a press conference today.
Dr. Levine provided an update on the number of vaccines distributed by the federal government in the commonwealth, stating the number is reaching one million as the state is in its fifth week of receipt of vaccine.
“Our mission to immunize any Pennsylvanian who wants a vaccine continues,” Dr. Levine said. “The Federal Pharmacy Partnership has vaccination clinics at 159 skilled nursing facilities this week. Vaccine providers have administered vaccine to a total of 311,477 people, including 251,133 people who have received their first dose and 30,172 who have received two doses and are considered fully vaccinated.”
According to Dr. Levine, Pennsylvania's distribution rate is on pace with the national distribution rate of vaccines. "We've heard no reports of people 'jumping the line' so to speak," said Levine, when asked if individuals not included in stage 1a were receiving vaccines early.
Just hours prior to the conference, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar announced the government will be releasing the second doses of the both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which will nearly double the supply of available vaccines in the country. Additionally, Azar advised states to start vaccinating groups including people age 65 and over and individuals who are at high risk due to pre-existing health conditions.
In response to Azar's announcement, Dr. Levine said the state would review the latest recommendations and would amend distribution stage 1b to include individuals aged 65 and over "as soon as possible."
Expanding the vaccine is important because even those who have been vaccinated can still spread the virus to individuals who have not been vaccinated.
Pennsylvania receives allocated amounts of the vaccines from the federal government which means officials cannot make decisions until they know how many doses they will receive and when they will receive them. The federal government and state officials are "trying to find a balance," explained Dr. Levine, between getting the vaccine to "vulnerable populations and getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible."
Dr. Levine and Gov. Wolf were joined by Dr. Cynthia Chuang, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center who discussed the safety of the vaccine.
Dr. Chuang discussed her perspective, as a physician involved in the process of vaccinating health care workers, dispelling myths such as that the vaccine can’t be safe because it was developed so quickly.
“Rigorous clinical trials have demonstrated that the COVID vaccines are highly effective and safe,” said Dr. Cynthia Chuang, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “I’m looking forward to when my patients can be offered the vaccine.”
Governor Wolf reiterate Dr. Chuang's sentiments about the vaccine's safety and encouraged concern citizens to research the facts on their own.
“If you hear a rumor about COVID-19 from a friend, or see something online that concerns you, take a few minutes to verify the information before you get too worried. Five minutes of fact checking can save you and your loved ones a lot of worry,” he said.
“You can always find accurate, up-to-date information about testing, vaccine safety and distribution on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website, or through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," he continued.
Information on the vaccine, including the state’s vaccine plan, COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, a vaccine provider map and vaccine distribution data can be found here.