COVID-19 Vaccine: Who gets it and when? | Phase One breakdown

By: - December 16, 2020 7:26 am

(Getty Images via The Beacon)

With news that one COVID-19 vaccine is already being distributed at hospitals statewide, what is Pennsylvania’s plan for getting the vaccine out to the public? 

Last month, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine debuted Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan and its three-phase rollout process.  

The 68-page plan details how vaccine distribution is expected to play out across the various phases. Here’s the breakdown of who can get the vaccine in the first phase of distribution in Pennsylvania. 

Phase One

Pennsylvania entered Phase One this week when the initial doses of the vaccine first became available though in limited supply. 

Because of the limited 97,500 doses available, Phase One is identified as going to those at the greatest risk. Distribution is further broken down into two subgroups known as 1A and 1B. 

Those included for inoculation in Phase One are: 

  • Healthcare Personnel (1A) – Healthcare personnel, direct care workers, emergency, intensive care and COVID unit personnel, long-term care residents and personnel (depending on initial vaccine availability. Skilled-nursing is first priority if quantities are limited).
  • First Responders (1B) – Including law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel, Pa. National Guard personnel, older adult protective services, adult protective services, child protective services due to personnel being in direct public contact and possible COVID exposure. 
  • Critical Workers (1B) – Including essential business personnel who cannot work remotely, such as: 

Critical Manufacturing Sector:

  • People who manufacture medical supplies, PPE
  • People who manufacture other essential products 

Emergency Services Sector: 

  • Field workers with direct public exposure 
  • Volunteer response organization field personnel 
  • Supportive housing field personnel 

Energy Sector 

  • People who conduct home/business visits for electrical assessments and repairs, gas supply assessments and repairs 
  • Oil refinery workers, others in petrochemical processing and distribution

Food and Agriculture Sector:  

  • Meat processing and other food processing facility workers 

Workers serving people in congregate settings not otherwise included in Phase 1A:

  • Correctional facilities/juvenile justice facilities 
  • Homeless shelters /Domestic violence/rape crisis shelters 
  • Office of Children, Youth, and Families Child Residential Facilities 

Nuclear Reactors, Materials, and Waste Sector:

  •  Onsite technical personnel, emergency responders

Transportation Systems Sector: 

  • Drivers of high occupancy vehicles (more than 6) or drivers participating in medically necessary services 
  • TSA workers 
  • Airport/train security
  • Medical Assistance Transportation Program Drivers

Water and Wastewater Systems Sector:

  • Field workers making assessments and repairs in the community 
  • Wastewater treatment facilities technicians 
  • Emergency responders 


  • Teachers, school staff working directly with students 

Employees caring for Children or Adults in Early Childhood and Adult Day Programs: 

  • Child Care or Part-Day School-Age Programs 
  • Home Visiting Programs 
  • Early Intervention staff not otherwise included in 1A 
  • Early Childhood programs including Head Start, Pre-K, and Family Center 
  • Adult Day Programs 

Other high-risk services/activities: 

  • Environmental cleaning of patient care areas 
  • Laboratory processing of COVID-19 specimens 
  • Mortuary care for deceased COVID persons 

High-Risk Conditions: Phase 1B: People with high risk conditions leading to more severe disease and poor outcomes if infected with COVID-19.

Underlying Medical Conditions: 

  • Cancer 
  • Chronic kidney disease 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant 
  • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m²or higher but less than 40) 
  • Severe obesity (BMI of 40 kg/m² or higher) 
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies 
  • Sickle cell disease 
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus 
  • Smoking  
  • Pregnancy 

Age-associated high risk: 

  • People age 65 years and older 

Residents of congregate settings and individuals receiving home and community-based services not otherwise specified as a LTCF: 

  • Behavioral Health/Rehabilitation Facilities 
  • Community Residential Rehabilitation Services 
  • Correctional Facilities/Juvenile Justice Facilities 
  • Domestic Violence Shelters  
  • Homeless 
  • Intensive or Partial Treatment Programs  
  • Office of Developmental Programs Home and Community-Based Services  
  • Office of Long-Term Living Home and Community-Based Services  
  • Office of Children, Youth and Families Child Residential Facilities 

While the plan lists who can receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the first phase of distribution, it does not include a finali logistical plan for administration of the vaccine to those in the critical worker or high-risk categories. 

It also does not include an administration plan for critical populations, such as racial, ethnic and tribal backgrounds.

The Health Department says it’s currently working with the Office of Health Equity and the Centers for Disease Control to determine the best way to distribute vaccines to these populations, according to a department spokesperson.

A Department of Health spokesperson told the Capital-Star that those plans are not finished because the department does not know the allotment of doses Pennsylvania will receive from the federal government beyond the initial 97,500 being received this week.  

The department confirmed that plans for administering the vaccine would become less “fluid” and more firm as federal supply increased. 

While the department is unsure if pharmaceutical partnerships, primary care physicians or a combination of the two would be the ones to administer the vaccine to those who want it, Rachel Kostelac, a department spokesperson told the Capital-Star, “we expect it to be a collaborative effort between “health care systems, transportation, and local entities, etc.”

“Every Pennsylvanian who wants the vaccine will have the opportunity to get it,” Kostelac said. 

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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.