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PA Senate Hearing Highlights COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts, Areas to Improve Statewide Distribution

February 04, 2021

Today, clinical leaders from two Pennsylvania health systems provided state lawmakers with an update about their efforts to bring mass vaccination clinics to their communities and the need to increase the federal supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Robert X. Murphy Jr., executive vice president and chief physician executive, Lehigh Valley Health Network, and Dr. Michael Ripchinski, chief clinical officer at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, testified during a public hearing before the state Senate Health and Human Services and Aging and Youth committees.

Dr. Murphy said Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems are well-positioned to efficiently administer the COVID-19 vaccine, drawing from years of public health knowledge, deep community partnerships, and a clear capacity to scale up their vaccination efforts to inoculate thousands of Pennsylvanians.

“While we all know effective and timely vaccinations will save lives and kick-start the economy, I cannot overstate how the ability to vaccinate the community—rather than intubate patients—provides relief and bolsters morale for exhausted frontline caregivers who have witnessed the suffering caused by COVID-19 every day for nearly a year,” Dr. Murphy said.

Dr. Ripchinski said collaboration between the Department of Health, local municipalities, and the health care system is critical during this stage of the pandemic.

“Given the small volume of vaccine we have had, we have shown our ability to get it into arms, and we are not holding back for second doses,” Dr. Ripchinski said.

Dr. Ripchinski said the sudden expansion of the first priority group in Phase 1A has led to frustration among the general public. The small volume of vaccines available at multiple county locations has led patients to sign up for appointments at different pharmacies and physician practices, increasing the risk for wasted vaccine, he said.

During the hearing, lawmakers asked representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Health about the state’s progress to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine and areas for improvement, highlighting the need to ensure vaccination for residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam said the department is focused on getting Pennsylvanians vaccinated as quickly as possible. She said the department is contemplating a “strategic shift” toward providers who are able to get through their allocations.

Acting Secretary Beam described the balancing act to ensure the vaccine is available throughout Pennsylvania, while rewarding providers who are able to get through their inventory. The state will eventually reach a point where the demand allows all providers to receive larger allocations, but the federal supply has not reached that stage, she said.

In addition, representatives from pharmacies and long-term care facilities also appeared at the hearing to discuss their role in the COVID-19 vaccine administration process and the challenges in the initial rollout of the vaccine.

HAP supports Pennsylvania’s hospitals and health systems as they administer the COVID-19 vaccine across the commonwealth. HAP continues to highlight the need for additional resources to efficiently and effectively meet demand for the vaccine.

For more information, contact Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice president, state legislative advocacy.