/COVID-19 vaccine may reach Pa. next month, but we could be wearing masks for all of 2021 – PennLive

COVID-19 vaccine may reach Pa. next month, but we could be wearing masks for all of 2021 – PennLive


The first COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in Pennsylvania next month, and a second could arrive in January, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday.

However, the early supply will be severely limited, with the initial doses reserved for front-line health care workers, first responders, the elderly and people living in group health care settings. Plus, the expected first vaccines will require two doses to be effective, further limiting the supply.

Pennsylvania plans to distribute the vaccine in three phases, with the second involving high-risk people not included in the first phase, and the third involving the general public. Vaccination won’t be mandatory, although the state will recommend it for most people.

Levine on Thursday said she had no specific dates, including exactly when batches will arrive in Pennsylvania, when enough state residents will be vaccinated to end the COVID-threat, and when Pennsylvanians will finally be done with things including wearing face masks and restrictions on businesses.

“We anticipate we’re going to be rolling this out through the winter and then into the spring and into the summer. It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania. I anticipate we’re going to be wearing masks well into 2021, maybe to the end of 2021,” she said.

Levine spoke in a day when Pennsylvania reported a state-record 7,126 new COVID-19 cases, with nearly 3,000 people in the hospital and 628 in intensive care. The daily average of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased by about 1,700 since late September, the health department said.

“We are in for a very challenging time, which is why we are talking about containment and mitigation and emphasizing how things are,” Levine said Thursday.

The good news, she said, is the promising results with two vaccines, one from Pfizer and one from Moderna. Both are in the final stages of testing, with effectiveness rates of more than 90% and few side effects. Pfizer is expected to seek emergency approval from the federal government this week, with Moderna close behind.

Pfizer, as is Moderna, is already manufacturing the vaccine, enabling it to ship vaccine shortly after approval. However, the supply will be severely limited at first, with the bulk of the needed doses not expected to reach states until sometime next year.

Pennsylvania has a federally-approved plan to distributing the vaccine. Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, requiring equipment normally available only at hospitals. As a result, health systems will be largely responsible for distributing it, according to Levine. Moderna’s vaccine and others in the pipeline don’t require ultra-cold storage, giving more flexibility in distribution, which is expected to eventually involve community clinics and pharmacies.

Most of the vaccines require two doses, adding to record-keeping and distribution challenges.

Levine said Pennsylvania is ready to distribute vaccine as soon as it arrives, although the state needs more federal funding toward some “logistical” matters. This includes communicating with the public about the vaccine and assuring people it’s safe.

There has been concern the vaccine development process has been rushed and politicized. However, Levine said Thursday she has confidence in the approval process and the safety of the vaccines, which was fueled by the Trump administration’s “Operation Warp Speed,” a name Levine said has made some uneasy.

“I feel very comfortable with this process. I feel comfortable with the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and I’ll encourage everyone in the target groups, as we roll it out, to get the vaccine and forget the pithy name,” she said.

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