COVID-19 vaccinations in Pennsylvania: What you need to know

Pennsylvania began the arduous effort to vaccinate the sixth largest population in the country shortly after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was given federal approval in early December. 

The state's vaccination effort began with healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents. While doses remain in short supply, the state's vaccination eligibility has grown to include people 65 and older, and people 16-64 with high-risk health conditions. 

While the general public is still months away from being eligible for the vaccine, health officials anticipate more than 540 healthcare centers, pharmacies and hospitals will join the effort to help administer the vaccine.

To help residents keep track of the state's progress, Pennsylvania has created a COVID-19 vaccination dashboard. The helpful tool shows users how many doses have been administered by county and important demographic statistics. 

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO GET VACCINATED IN PENNSYLVANIA?

Pennsylvania's vaccine rollout will be guided by a four-tiered system that starts with frontline healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents, and gradually grows to include other populations as more doses become available.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the first phase of the vaccination effort includes 3 sub-phases. Currently, Pennsylvania is in Phase 1A, which includes all long-term care residents and staff and healthcare workers. 

On Jan. 19, officials expanded Phase 1A to include 65 and older, as well as those between the ages of 16 and 64 with serious health conditions outlined by the FDA. Those groups had previously been part of Phase 1C.

The second phase, Phase 1B, will incorporate people 75-years and older and most frontline workers like first responders, teachers, and grocery store employees. People living in congregate settings and the workers who serve them will also be eligible for the vaccine. 

Phase 1C, which health officials think can be reached by the summertime, extends doses to people work in transportation, communications, public safety, media, and other professions like construction.

The state will not move to Phase 2 until enough doses are procured to vaccinate the general public. In Phase 2, people 16 and older are strongly encouraged to get the vaccine. 

You can read more about each Phase here, or you can use a newly developed tool created to help Pennsylvania residents determine when they are eligible for vaccination and how to get vaccinated.

A short quiz can help users determine if they are eligible before helping you find a nearby vaccine provider and contacting them to make an appointment.

Once you get the first dose, you will receive a vaccination card that will serve as a reminder to return for your second dose in the appropriate amount of time.

PHILADELPHIA VACCINE INFORMATION

Philadelphia, the largest city in Pennsylvania boasting a population of over 1.5 million people, has operated somewhat independently from the state for most of the pandemic. The city is receiving its own allotment of COVID-19 doses from the federal government and will handle the vaccine distribution.

According to Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, the city is currently receiving thousands of doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine per week. The federal allotment is expected to increase as production ramps up, according to officials. 

The city is using a similar tiered distribution system that prioritizes healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Philadelphia entered Phase 1B on Jan. 19, shifting some of the focus to first responders, teachers, and people over 75-years-old. As part of an ongoing effort to re-open Philadelphia public schools, the city is partnering with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to inoculate teachers and staff.

The rollout will expand to include more essential workers under Phase 1C and high-risk populations between 64 and 74. The city will only move to Phase 2 when doses are plentiful enough to vaccinate the general public.

Health officials say there is no timetable for increasing eligibility due to the fluid nature of vaccine rollout. In the meantime, Philadelphians are being asked to continue mitigation strategies designed to limit the spread of COVID-19. The city hopes to vaccinate at least 70% of its population, which officials predict will provide herd immunity.  

Philadelphia residents who wish to receive the COVID-19 vaccine can now pre-register on a new website launched by the city.  Due to extremely limited vaccine supply, residents cannot set appointments using this website. Officials said it may take weeks or months before residents will be able to schedule appointments. If you wish to sign up, please visit the vaccine interest website, here.

Similar to the state, Philadelphia has created its own coronavirus vaccine dashboard to keep residents up to date on the city's progress. 

WHERE CAN I GET VACCINATED?

Health officials in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia highly encourage residents to get the vaccine when they are eligible. Residents should be familiar with their nearest vaccine location for future planning. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has created a map that plots all hospitals, healthcare providers, and pharmacies that have received or will receive the COVID-19 vaccine. So far, more than 500 locations are expected to join the vast inoculation effort.

The Philadelphia Department of Health is now overseeing the mass vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the wake of the Philly Fighting COVID scandal. The city says it will up to six mass vaccination clinics each week beginning Feb. 22. The city plans to partner with more organizations, like the Black Doctors Consortium, to expand vaccination efforts.

According to the state's website, residents should make an appointment to receive their first dose to avoid overwhelming facilities and staff. Appointments can be made online through the county or private providor. Officials say it is imperative to the efficacy of the vaccine that residents return in for their second dose.

The Pfizer vaccine requires a 21 day period between doses and the Moderna vaccine requires 28 days. Healthcare providers will give patients a date to return for their booster shot.

WHAT WILL IT COST TO GET THE VACCINE?

The push to innoculate as many Americans as possible with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine is being paid for by the federal government, meaning it comes free of charge to residents. 

Based on the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement, all providers must vaccinate individuals regardless of whether they have health insurance coverage or what type of coverage they have, and are prohibited from balance billing or otherwise charging vaccine recipients.

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RELATED COVERAGE

COVID-19 timeline: How the pandemic unfolded over 1 year

Coronavirus Restrictions: What you need to know in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware

Pa. expands vaccination eligibility to those 65 and older, others with serious health conditions

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