The Lead

With an eye toward improving vaccine equity, Pa. Health Dept. rolls out expanded vaccine demographic data

By: - April 27, 2021 4:18 pm

(Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, an emergency department physician at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, receives Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, Mon., 12/14/20)

Demographic data, such as the race, ethnicity and gender, of Pennsylvania’s vaccine recipients is now being provided at a county level in addition to statewide demographic data. 

The update, announced last week, follows the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s push to make the commonwealth’s vaccination efforts more equitable. Acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam said it will help the department monitor the progress of “equitable distribution” across the commonwealth. 

“This updated data will assist the department as we work to determine where we may need to focus some of our work, to ensure we are reaching all populations equally. We are committed to making the vaccine available to all Pennsylvanians to reduce the likelihood of individuals being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19,” Beam said in a statement announcing the change. 

Gov. Tom Wolf echoed those comments Monday, when he announced that Pennsylvania’s vaccine administration order had been amended to allow local entities to partner with vaccine providers to administer vaccines to elderly and homebound Pennsylvanians. 

Amended health order aims to get vaccines to homebound Pennsylvanians

In February, the Capital-Star reported that experts were concerned that missing vaccine demographic data was causing steep hurdles in Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout efforts not only among Black and Brown communities, but also among the gender and orientation-diverse LGBTQ communities. 

‘When they don’t count us, we don’t count.’ LGBTQ leaders ask state health officials for more data on COVID-19 vaccinations

State health officials believe this more localized data will aid in those efforts by allowing them to identify areas of need and barriers to accessing vaccines. 

“This information will help identify any equity gaps so that we can work in partnership with Federal Retail Pharmacy Partners, who have stores in many locations, to assist in vaccinating all Pennsylvanians,” Beam said.

In addition to making sure vaccines are more accessible to Pennsylvanians who want them, Beam said the department is working with “trusted partners and stakeholders” to disperse information to those who may be hesitant about the vaccines. 

 “It is important that we all remember that the vaccines are safe and effective and are the best path to prevent becoming seriously ill from the virus,” Beam said. 

But experts say barriers such as location, transportation, online sign ups and appointment scheduling are responsible for vaccination disparities in Philadelphia, not vaccine hesitancy, NPR reported Monday. 

More than 3.6 million white Pennsylvanians are partially or fully vaccinated, according to Department of Health data compared with 192,437 Black Pennsylvanians. 

As of Tuesday, Pennsylvania has administered first doses of the vaccine to 47.7 percent of its eligible population, ranking 10th among states for first doses administered by percentage of population.

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.