Hospitals outline vaccine protocols
Pennsylvania has expanded COVID-19 vaccine priority groups, but there are currently not enough doses to vaccinate everyone.
Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs Section for St. Luke’s University Health Network, said Friday the state has opened eligibility to those 65 and over, and age 16-64 with medical conditions, despite the fact there are not currently enough vaccine doses for everyone in this group.
Jahre said the network will prioritize according to age and risk factors.
However, he said the number of doses they receive fluctuates per week, which makes it difficult to schedule ahead.
As a result, St. Luke’s is booking appointments out every seven to eight days to ensure that they have vaccine for those who are scheduled.
Jahre said, “What complicates this is that the majority of vaccines that we have is not up to the people who are giving the vaccine.”
Dr. Brian Nester, president and chief executive officer for LVHN, said, “There is nothing we want more than to vaccinate everyone. However, we have a very limited supply of vaccine.
“Our vaccine supply is provided by the state of Pennsylvania and is based on what comes to the state from the federal government,” Nester said.
“What we have done is we’re going to look at the highest-risk groups first. Anyone can sign up,” he said. When people get an appointment, they are guaranteed to get the vaccine.
Jahre said that more than 3.5 million people are now eligible in the state for Phase 1A, which includes health care personnel, first responders, long-term care facility residents, people age 65 and older and people 16-64 with underlying medical conditions.
“There is just not enough vaccine at this time to accommodate that many people,” he said.
Nester said, “We continue to work every day with the Department of Health as well as local, state and federal elected officials to improve the process and get as much vaccine as possible for the community.”
At LVHN, Nester said, “As we get more supply, we make more appointments available to the eligible groups, and appointments fill up very fast.”
St. Luke’s plans to administer 20,000 doses next week.
“We have a very, very robust system,” he said. “We are doing this seven days a week.”
St. Luke’s is giving over 3,000 doses per day and can increase if the vaccine is available.
The network receives 6,500 phone calls per day to its vaccine hotline. That’s five times the normal call volume, with 3,000-plus people per day scheduled via phone.
Nester said LVHN is distributing the vaccine to those who need it most.
“Right now, that is health care workers, first responders, nursing home staff and residents, as well as people age 75 and older,” Nester said.
“For people 65 to 74, or those age 18 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, trust that we know you are out there and waiting. We will message you very soon to let you know when you can begin scheduling your vaccination,” he added.
St. Luke’s said they are starting off with the group 75-and-over.
“It is not a system that’s going to satisfy everyone,” Jahre said. “We’re going with age 75-or-greater and then working it down as supplies are necessary, and if there’s a big supply that’s available, we’ll be able to accommodate that.
“Our system is geared so that everyone out there can register, and then we will notify you when your turn comes up, and the expectation I think is at some point - and we’re hoping that will be in a couple of months - there will be enough vaccines out there for everyone to get it. That’s not expected to be the case probably for at least another month or two at best.”
St. Luke’s has 11 vaccination sites (hospitals) that provide full access to emergency care, ample parking/shuttles for elderly; and safe, comfortable indoor environment.
The average appointment is 30 minutes or less, with minimal lines/waiting.
“Our goal is to be up to 5,000 within the next week,” Colleen Sprissler, senior director of network operations for St. Luke’s. said. “To date, we have sent out over 9,000 invites for people to be able to self-schedule.”
Jahre said the goal is to make the process run as smooth as possible.
“Our advantage at this point, we feel is that we want to make this extremely easy on people,” he said.
“We don’t want people traveling a half-hour, 45 minutes if they don’t have to; we have 11 sites to try to make sure people can access these close to them.”
Sprissler said the biggest roadblock right now is just the sheer volume.
Jahre added the limiting factor for them is getting the vaccine and having enough staff available, which is why they’re trying to not make appointments more than seven days in advance. The vaccine is free.
“I can only tell you that when you embark on something as massive as this, I don’t care who you are, having this work flawlessly would be an impossibility,” he said. “We’re not in the blame game; the idea is to say let’s fix what we have right now, and as we learn more about this, then we can do a better job.”
Jahre said that Pfizer and Moderna are going to have many more doses available. Johnson & Johnson is expected to submit their application for approval in the next few weeks and that may be a one-dose vaccine.
“I think we have a lot to look forward to where eventually we’re going to have enough vaccines,” he said.
Both health networks say vaccinating all groups will take a number of months.
In the meantime, Jahre implored everyone to have some patience and “not abandon all of the things that we know work.”
He also urged continuing social distancing, masking and proper hand hygiene.
Nester added, “I know you’re frustrated. We’re frustrated, too. However, know that we have the experience to vaccinate thousands of people a day, and we will use every dose as quickly as we get it.”
Jahre said, “We’ve wasted nothing. How much vaccine have we wasted, the answer is zero.”
Remember the second dose
Jahre emphasized that people who get their first shot need to come back for their second one.
“We don’t want people to only get one dose and not come back for the second dose,” he said. “It is not fine.”
Jahre said there are a number of different studies that are coming out, and may end up fostering more resistant strains.
“These vaccines so far are approved for two doses; if you get that first dose, then you need to get that second dose.”
Jahre said that about 90% of people are going to have some tenderness in their arm; there are a number of people that have large red marks or swelling over arms. After the second dose, he said a number of people have felt very ill, however, those effects go away.
“We are letting people know that you might have these reactions with that second dose,” he said. “It is not a reason to forgo that second dose.”
Marta Gouger contributed to this report.