County officials push state on vaccine numbers, explain guidance for schools reopening

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Chester County Commissioners’ chair Marian Moskowitz updates the public on the current status of COVID-19 vaccine in the county, Thursday.

WESTTOWN — The leaders of Chester County’s government expressed frustration at low supplies of COVID-19 vaccine — and pledged to keep pushing state officials to boost supplies locally, specifically to the county Health Department. Additionally, the leader of the county Health Department detailed ongoing guidance that would allow schools to allow more students per classroom, a recommendation in variance with current federal guidelines.

County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle  — and County Health Director Jeanne Franklin — held a press conference Thursday in front of the Government Services Building to talk both about county plans to get the vaccine out and renew their pleas to push state health officials to boost the number of doses coming to the county, and specifically to the Health Department.

Chester County is just one of six — of 67 Pennsylvania counties — with its own Health Department, making it better equipped to distribute the majority of doses, officials said, rather than sending the majority of doses to hospitals and community health centers.

The Commissioners offered a status update on total number of vaccinations, with 37,844 first doses given and 24,710 of second doses given from all sources, which includes county health, local hospitals, pharmacies and other sources. By itself, the Health Department has given 18,459 first doses and 9,080 second doses.

There have been more vaccinations than that, though, as there are no numbers from the federal partnership with national pharmacy chains to inoculate residents and staff of long-term care facilities, a process said to be nearly complete in the county.

“While these numbers, even when combined are not as high as we would like them to be, we are moving in the right direction,” said Moskowitz, chair of the board of commissioners. “As the program of vaccinating our elderly residents and staff in long-term care facilities starts to reach its conclusion, there will be more vaccine available to go to providers like our own health department.”

Still, getting enough vaccine remains the overriding challenge, an issue created by delays in production by Moderna and Pfizer — the makers of the two currently approved vaccines — as well as errors in roll out by the state Department of Health (DOH) and continuing issues where those doses are being allocated. 

The national supply of vaccine — with the expected emergency approval of Johnson & Johnson’s single shot vaccine — is expected to ramp up quickly in March, as J&J said it expects to ship 20 million doses in March, while both Moderna and Pfizer announced boosts in production which should see expanded distribution in March. Both Moderna and Pfizer initially struggled in ramping up vaccine production, but have seen improvements in recent weeks.

On the state level, a recent error by DOH led to delays in administering some 100,000 second doses around the commonwealth — as mistaken guidance told providers to use stocks of second doses as first doses for other patients. DOH has largely agreed to rework how it distributes vaccine, moving to send more doses to those — like county Heath — that have demonstrated the ability to get more shots in arms quickly and efficiently.

Moskowitz  said she and her colleagues have been pushing hard on DOH, directly and through the county’s legislative delegation to get a smarter distribution of vaccine, specifically, a larger percentage for county health — which officials say could, with a month’s notice, ramp up to handle some 33,000 vaccinations per week.

“Providing more vaccine doses to our health department is the smart decision and it is the direction we have been asking the state department of health to take for weeks,” Moskowitz said. “I can tell you we are working every day, advocating to the state for more vaccine. And to prove to the state that the skills, resources and investment of Chester County’s Health Department and health departments like ours, should now be put to best use in getting the people of this region vaccinated against COVID-19 in the most efficient and equitable manner.”

One other update: up until now, the Health Department has only received Moderna vaccine, that changed this past week with the first doses of Pfizer vaccine, 2,340 doses, all of which are first dose. 2,500 first doses as well as 3,000 second doses of Moderna.

Still, demand far outstrips supply and it is understandable many county residents are frustrated by the process.

“There are many, many people every day continuing to sign up to express their interest in receiving vaccine and this is huge – we need more people to take that interest,” Franklin said. “And with every day, the Health Department staff are appreciative of the patience people have in waiting for those vaccines to be for their dose. We look forward to that changing as more vaccine becomes available.”

Franklin also addressed the current guidance on schools — suggesting that students can be as little as three feet part in classroom settings, rather than the six feet currently recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) — although adults should still maintain six feet of distance. Franklin stressed three feet is an absolute minimum, more space is always better. As many local school districts move toward full-time, in-person education, some critics and teachers’ unions have questioned that guidance. Also, a letter went out last week advising school districts that staff vaccinations are not a prerequisite for in person learning — as most teachers unions are pushing for staff to be vaccinated before a full reopening of schools.

“It’s important to understand that in no way is the Health department saying to schools that they can immediately shift to three feet of physical distancing,” Franklin said. “Rather, the guidance states that if schools are seeking to increase the number of students receiving in-person learning, it is recommended that they maximize their physical space in every room such that they can get as close to six feet as possible of physical distancing, and in no way go less than three feet. This is guidance for students, it is important to stress that the adult to adult interactions and the adult to student interactions in school are required to remain six feet.”

Franklin said that county Health is able to get more detailed — and site specific — information than the broad guidance of the CDC is based upon.

“We rely heavily on the case investigations, contact tracing we do every day that is related to our school community, whether it is the students or the adults,” Franklin said. “We also rely on…we have a dedicated schools team that supports our schools and what they are experiencing.”

She said there is constant and direct exchange of information that allows for different guidance.

“It’s real world experience that we’re leveraging this on,” she said. “And this is not new to our schools. They’ve been doing this for quite a while and are committed to continuing it.”

Complete information on registering for the vaccine, scheduling and other information can be found at:

Those without Internet access call call directly: 610 -344-6225.

The entire press conference can be viewed here:

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