Area Hospitals Continuing Vaccination of Healthcare Workers, Awaiting Guidance on Further Distribution
(PHOTO: Leslie Walters, DNP, CRNP, FNP-BC – Chief Nursing Officer at Clarion Hospital receiving her vaccine. Courtesy Clarion Hospital.)
According to information released earlier this week by Butler Health System, the only approved recipients at this time are Pennsylvania Department of Health approved healthcare providers (Group 1A).
The Pennsylvania Department of Health, which controls the distribution of the vaccine, has not provided authorization to begin vaccinations for other groups, including Group 1B, which was initially included people over the age of 75, correctional officers, food and agricultural workers, UP postal service workers, grocery store workers, education workers, and public transit workers, among others.
According to the information released, Butler Health System has received a “very limited supply” of the vaccine, and it is being distributed as quickly as it is received.
“Butler Health System wants anyone in the community who wants to be vaccinated (to be provided with the vaccine). BHS will continue to do its part to make this happen,” the release states.
UPMC Northwest Hospital is also continuing to provide COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare professionals while preparing for the next step in the larger vaccination process.
One major question seems to be: What exactly will that next step be?
According to Katelin Speer, director of operations at UPMC Northwest, as of mid-day Friday, over 1,000 vaccines had been given at UPMC Northwest, including over 700 first doses and an estimated 300 or more second doses.
Speer noted that those who have received the vaccine so far have been UPMC employees and first responders in the local area.
“The majority of our team has received both their first and second dose,” Speer said.
UPMC Northwest also received another allocation of vaccines on Friday morning, and Speer said they are currently moving on to vaccinate non-hospital based healthcare workers in the community, as directed by the state.
“We were happy to get that big allotment to help continue our efforts here.”
According to Speer, the most recent allotment of an additional 975 doses should be enough to not only vaccinate additional healthcare workers in the area but also to begin the next phase of inoculations.
Changes in recommendations are stalling their efforts, however, as it is currently unclear whether the next group to receive vaccinations will be individuals over 65 and anyone with a pre-existing condition, or whether it will be non-healthcare essential workers, such as teachers and those in the transportation industry.
“The state will dictate how we move on. We have plans in place, we’re just waiting on the state for guidance on this.”
Speer said whether the next major group to receive vaccinations is those most at risk due to age and other conditions or those working in essential positions, UPMC is preparing to be able to offer mass inoculations.
“We’re doing vaccinations on a rolling basis to make sure each group has adequate time to get vaccinated before moving completely on to the next group.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic going on nearly a year now, the push for vaccinations for the general public is becoming more and more clear, and UPMC Northwest, like many other healthcare providers, is seeing an increase in calls from people requesting information about when they can be vaccinated.
“People seem to be afraid they’re going to miss something. That seems to be a lot of the calls. That and questions about when they qualify.”
According to Speer, the hospital is currently asking for patience from the public.
“We’re being methodical about how we move through this process so everyone has a chance for their turn in the pecking order prescribed by state and federal guidelines.”
Speer noted one of the biggest issues most healthcare systems are facing is supply, as vaccines are first allocated from the federal government to the state, then from the state to larger facilities, and finally through those larger facilities to smaller facilities.
“We want to vaccinate our community. We want to take care of the community we serve. These are our family and friends, and everyone working here is touched by this. We are just doing our best, but we can only move as fast as we get the vaccines.”
While plans for the next phase of vaccinations haven’t been entirely clarified yet, Speer did promise that they will release those plans to the public as soon as they can.
“We will let people know, through the media and other sources, how we will move forward into the next phase and we will try to keep the public as informed as possible so people can prepare and feel more at ease.”
In the meantime, Speer noted that all of the precautions against spreading the virus are still vitally important, from mask-wearing and social distancing to regular hand washing.
“These are key things to help us move forward while keeping people safe before they’re vaccinated. We just can’t say enough how important these things are.”
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