The Lead

After a slow start, Pa. Health Secretary Levine hopeful pace of COVID-19 vaccinations will increase in 2021

By: - January 4, 2021 1:59 pm

Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine speaks at the virtual media briefing. The Pennsylvania Department of Health today confirmed as of 12:00 a.m., January 4, that there were 3,226 additional positive cases of COVID-19, in addition to 4,579 new cases reported Sunday, January 3 for a two-day total of 8,992 additional positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 665,097. The case counts today are atypically low as a result of technical maintenance to the data server on Sunday. This technical maintenance did not impact the death reporting system on Sunday or Monday as the death data comes from a different server. Harrisburg, PA – January 04, 2021

Pennsylvania’s top public health official said Monday that federal agencies overestimated the number of COVID-19 vaccinations that states would be able to administer by the end of 2020, but expressed confidence that inoculations would ramp up in the new year.

The remarks state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine made Monday followed reports that the United States fell far short of its goal to inoculate 20 million people by the end of December.

Barely 2 million people nationwide had received shots by the end of 2020, federal officials said, even though 14 million doses had been doled out to states and cities. 

State data show that Pennsylvania was unable to buck the trend. The state had administered fewer than half of the 229,325 doses it had received by the end of 2020, WHYY-FM reported last week.

By Monday, the state had administered 135,044 shots.

Pennsylvania hospitals started vaccinating healthcare workers in December. Last week the state launched a partnership with Walgreens and CVS pharmacies to administer injections on-site for nursing home residents and staff. 

Levine said immunizations in general were slow during the busy holiday season, due in part to shipping delays from manufacturers.

“I really think that some of the estimates from the federal government, especially estimates during the holidays, were higher than they should have been,” Levine said. “It was always going to be a challenge during those two or three weeks to be able to administer the vaccines that were sent to us.”

She also said the state has been slow to receive data on the nursing home immunization campaign, which is being led by Operation Warp Speed, a coalition of federal agencies managing vaccine distribution. 

She added that some of the estimated 1 million healthcare workers who are eligible to receive vaccinations have not sought them out. 

Levine told reporters that she expects the rate of vaccinations to accelerate in the new year. 

She said states and cities will be aided by an estimated $6 billion to $8 billion in federal aid that’s expected to come from the federal stimulus package, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in December. 

“We’re going to need to start mass vaccination clinics [and] contract with healthcare workers,” Levine said. “That money will be essential.”

Levine said the state is on track to receive an additional 246,000 vaccine doses this week, some of which will be set aside for healthcare workers who have already received their first doses. 

Levine’s remarks came the same day that Pennsylvania lifted a temporary public health order that shuttered bars, restaurants and entertainment venues for three weeks starting in mid-December – measures that officials hoped would curb a holiday surge of COVID-19. 

The state reported a two-day total of 8,992 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. It also saw a total of 122 COVID-19 deaths reported on Sunday and Monday, for a statewide total of 16,361 fatalities since March. 

While hospitalizations remain strained by a month-long influx of COVID-19 patients, Levine said the number of people requiring treatment for the disease has declined. 

The state had 5,529 people receiving hospital treatment Monday, including 1,149 in intensive care units. 

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.