Allegheny Co. expands COVID vaccine eligibility to residents 50-64 with underlying health conditions

By: - March 22, 2021 6:30 am

Dr. Debra Bogen (right) at a press conference on 3/17/21 (Facebook/Pittsburgh City Paper image).

By Amanda Waltz

PITTSBURGH — Last week, the Allegheny County Health Department announced changes to its vaccination site priorities that would expand eligibility to more residents.

Effective March 19, individuals 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions will qualify to receive the vaccine at certain points of dispensing, county Health Director Dr. Debra Bogen said during a briefing.

Qualifying conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions (not high blood pressure), sickle cell disease, being immunocompromised, and type 2 diabetes. It also extends to those who are smoking, pregnant, or qualify as obese according to the body mass index.

The expansion is in addition to the 65 and older individuals who have been eligible for the vaccine under Pennsylvania’s Phase 1A of the rollout.

“Although we still have work to do serving this population, these data tell us we need to expand our eligibility requirements for vaccination,” said Bogen in a press release.

Bogen said that, by the end of last week, “at least 50 percent of those county residents who are 65 years of age and older will have received at least one vaccine.”

ACHD also will open three additional COVID-19 vaccine distribution sites before the end of the month. Central Baptist Church in the Hill District and will open Mon., March 22. ACHD and Duquesne University’s Center for Integrative Health will operate the site with the goal of “targeting specific communities and populations who have not yet been reached, including those who require accessibility accommodations or translation services.”

The Ross Township Community Center site will also open the week of March 22.

ACHD is also working with the University of Pittsburgh to run vaccination clinics at the Peterson Events Center and the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, Medicine, Dental Medicine, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and Graduate School of Public Health.

All vaccines will be by appointment only, and anyone arriving without an appointment, or not meeting priority criteria will be turned away. Appointments will be announced on the county’s COVID Vaccine page. The department will also push out announcements through Allegheny Alerts.

Residents without internet access, or who are having difficulty navigating the online registration system, may contact 2-1-1 for assistance in scheduling when appointments are available.

Bogen said the ACHD is working to bring additional sites online and will use all of these locations to achieve its goals of equitable vaccine distribution.

“I am grateful to all those who have joined us in these and so many other collaborations. In each case, the Health Department is teaming up with dedicated, trusted organizations and institutions,” Bogen said. “Along with all the other vaccine providers in the county, the hospitals, pharmacies, [Federally Qualified Health Centers] and others — we are working to meet the vaccine needs of our county’s residents.”

While the vaccine rollout across the state initially lagged, health departments have ramped up efforts to cover more Pennsylvanians.
Last week, Gov. Tom Wolf and acting Health Secretary Alison Beam announced that more than 1.3 million people across the state are fully vaccinated, meaning they had received the two required vaccine doses.
They also estimated that 23 percent of Pennsylvanians have received at least one dose of vaccine, per data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wolf tweeted on March 18, that Pennsylvania distributed the second most vaccines per capita of any state last week.

This is despite obstacles such as recent vaccine shortages and what many leaders saw as a lack of transparency over how residents can access the vaccine.

They credit some of this success to Federal Pharmacy Partnership Program, which allows people to access the vaccine at major drug store chains like Walgreens and CVS.

“The pace of vaccinations in Pennsylvania is accelerating each day,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office. “We have made tremendous progress, but we know we have more work to do. We appreciate all the providers and locations working to vaccinate Pennsylvanians. The commonwealth is committed to ensure that we can vaccinate all those in Phase 1A as soon as possible.”

Amanda Waltz is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared.

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