Pennsylvania In Talks To Expand Covid-19 Vaccine Eligibility

With Pennsylvania still vaccinating its most vulnerable population, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that his administration is discussing when to make the COVID-19 shot more widely available and that he expects it to happen relatively quickly.

Providers under the state’s jurisdiction are supposed to schedule all currently eligible people who request a vaccine — including people aged 65 and older and younger people with high-risk medical conditions — by Wednesday. Wolf asserted that providers are on track to meet that goal, and said Pennsylvania will soon be at a point where anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one.

More than a dozen other states, including bordering states like Ohio and New York, are expanding eligibility to most or all adults this week. President Joe Biden has pushed for states to make all adults eligible to be vaccinated by May 1. On Monday, Biden announced that by April 19 at least 90% of the adult U.S. population would be eligible for vaccination, and would have access to a vaccination site within 5 miles of home.

“We're talking about that now, as to how we want to move beyond where we are right now and how quickly we can do it,” Wolf said Tuesday after visiting a drive-thru mass vaccination clinic at Harrisburg Area Community College.

“The sooner we can get to that point, where everybody’s eligible, the happier I will be,” he said.

After early stumbles, Pennsylvania has steadily improved its vaccine rollout. About 31% of the population has received at least one dose, good for 12th in the nation and tops among the 10 largest states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not including Philadelphia, which runs its own vaccine program, about 3.4 million people in Pennsylvania have gotten at least one dose, representing more than three-quarters of the currently eligible population.

Wolf, who keeps a vaccine spreadsheet, said that by his reckoning, Pennsylvania should have enough doses to provide at least an initial shot to anyone who wants one by late April or early May.

“We’re going to get to a point, probably sooner rather than later, where ... the supply is greater than the demand," he said. “We're not there yet, but I think we’re moving toward that fairly quickly.”

Pennsylvania’s coronavirus case numbers, however, are going the wrong way.

New coronavirus infections have spiked more than 50% in the last two weeks, to an average of more than 3,800 per day. Hospitalizations have risen more than 10% in a little more than a week. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 remain comparatively low after a January peak.

Pennsylvania surpassed 25,000 COVID deaths this week since the beginning of the pandemic.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Tuesday:

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3 FEET OK

Following new CDC guidelines for schools, the Wolf administration said that students may now sit 3 feet apart in classrooms instead of 6 feet, though it said middle and high school students in counties with high rates of transmission should continue to stay 6 feet apart.

The state also reduced the number of days that schools should stay closed for in-person learning following positive test results.

Pennsylvania recently prioritized teachers for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and is nearly finished vaccinating that population, according to Wolf.

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CASES UP IN PHILLY, TOO

Philadelphia health department officials say the city’s daily case counts have nearly doubled in the last month, with a high Tuesday of more than 700 new cases.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said the case increases, as well as an increase in the rate of positive tests, means the city will at least temporarily put off opening vaccines to the general population.

Farley said he is asking providers to focus on people over 65 since that group has made up 81% of the city’s recorded COVID deaths.

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Associated Press reporter Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed to this story.