Pa. health officials, vaccine providers say winter weather could delay shots

Downtown Pittsburgh in winter time (Pittsburgh City Paper photo)

Pennsylvania may have dodged much of the brutal winter weather currently sweeping much of the United States, but snow and icy conditions across the country are still compounding delays in the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

A Department of Health official said Thursday that winter weather prevented vaccine manufacturers from shipping Moderna doses three days in a row this week, and that they only shipped limited supplies of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with shipping partners to get vaccine inventory moving again, but Pennsylvania’s vaccine providers can expect “a significant backlog of orders” this week as a result of the inclement weather, Department of Health aide Lindsey Mauldin said during a press briefing Thursday. 

One major vaccine provider in South Central Pennsylvania said it’s already feeling the strain of the weather-related delays. 

Penn State Health in Dauphin County has not received any vaccine shipments this week, and does not expect to get any on Thursday, either, spokeswoman Barbara Schindo told the Capital-Star. 

“Based on appointments scheduled, we are projecting that we will run out of vaccine by the end of the day Tuesday, Feb. 23 unless we receive more vaccine between now and then,” Schindo said in a written statement. 

The winter weather is poised to compound a pre-existing shortage of Moderna vaccines in Pennsylvania that state officials revealed earlier this week

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said Wednesday that as many as 100,000 Pennsylvanians due to receive Moderna injections could have their appointments rescheduled in the coming weeks. 

Read More: Here’s what you need to know about Pa.’s Moderna shortage.

She explained that vaccine providers had inadvertently administered doses that were supposed to be set aside as second-dose shots, leading to a shortage of vaccines for people trying to complete the two-dose sequence. 

A Department of Health spokesman said later that day that his agency contributed to the mistake by giving unclear instructions to providers.

Both the Pfizer vaccine and Moderna vaccines require patients to receive two injections spaced weeks apart. 

Federal guidelines call for patients to wait no more than six weeks between their first and second Moderna doses. 

Mauldin said Thursday that health officials “believe” they will be able to administer Moderna doses on time to partially vaccinated patients – but she added that they are still assessing supply and demand with vaccine providers. 

Pennsylvania’s vaccine distribution has lagged behind other states’ since the Commonwealth received its first shipments of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December. 

Mauldin said Thursday that the Department of Health has hired a consulting firm to help organize logistics for vaccine distribution. She did not name the firm and told a reporter that she did not know how much its services would cost. 

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