The Lead

Wolf: Centralized registration for vaccines could come when supply grows

By: - February 23, 2021 4:52 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)

Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that Pennsylvania may launch a centralized tool to help residents sign up to receive COVID-19 immunizations, a move that lawmakers are increasingly touting as an alternative to the current patchwork of registration systems run by the state’s vaccine providers.

Wolf told reporters during a press briefing Tuesday that the state may roll out such a system when it begins to establish mass vaccination clinics.

He pointed as an example to Maryland, where state officials announced this week that they would consolidate registration for mass vaccination sites into a single, state-run platform, with the goal of making it easier for people to sign up to receive vaccines.

“We’ll be doing the same kind of thing here in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “We’re open to the best ways to make sure that everybody who wants a vaccine gets one as quickly, equitably and efficiently as possible.”

Health officials and lawmakers say mass vaccination sites will be an integral part of Pennsylvania’s distribution strategy when vaccines become more widely available to the public. 

But it’s unclear when that day may come. Health officials said Tuesday that vaccines remain in short supply, even though the state is still pushing to get a greater allocation of doses from the federal government. 

“Demand is incredibly high,” Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said Tuesday. “We still have a tremendous amount of folks that technically could avail themselves of a vaccine … but they can’t actually access it.”

Pennsylvania currently outsources its vaccinations to more than 1,000 pharmacies, community medical centers, hospitals and doctors’ offices. Each one has its own sign-up system, which offer varying degrees of ease and accessibility to people seeking appointments.

Pennsylvanians who are eligible to get vaccines say the state’s current system makes it difficult to find a convenient provider that has doses in stock. 

Legislators in the state House and Senate have proposed bills that would require the state to create a centralized registration system. They say the current methods create hurdles for senior citizens, as well as people without reliable internet or ample time to devote to finding an appointment slot. 

They also say the state needs a waiting list so patients can be notified when an appointment becomes available. 

Lawmakers who sit on the state’s COVID-19 Task Force have told the Capital-Star that centralized registration is one of the tools they’re considering as they try to improve efficiency and equity in the state’s vaccine program. 

Task force member Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia, suggested last week that Pennsylvanians may be better served by county-level registration sites instead of a system covering 66 of the state’s 67 counties. 

The Department of Health does not oversee vaccine distribution in Philadelphia, which is one of just a handful of cities nationwide that receives its vaccine supply directly from the federal government.

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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.