One of the largest vaccine rollouts in history and apprehension toward the vaccine’s record-breaking development timeline mean that distribution in Lycoming County, and across the country, has been off to a slow start.
“Whenever anything comes out that’s new, we are always apprehensive,” said Dr. Rutul Dalal, of UPMC Susquehanna and an infectious disease expert.
In Lycoming County, the vaccine currently is distributed by three providers – UPMC Susquehanna, Geisinger Medical Center and River Valley Health and Dental. While the state still is in Phase 1A, Additional distribution providers are expect to be added in the coming phases.
To date over 15,700 doses of the vaccine have been delivered to Lycoming County, but just over 3,500 partial doses and 530 full doses have been administered, according to the state Department of Health.
Delays in rollout can be attributed to a variety of factors, Dalal said, including apprehension from the public, but also miss-information toward the beginning and limited staffing.
“This was not just in our system, it was all across the country as well,” Dalal said, but he added that now “things are on track.”
The state department has received criticism for its low vaccination numbers and rollout issues. Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levin, told PennLive.com she plans to introduce new tactics soon to allow access to the vaccine by people 65 years and above at certain pharmacies.
According to most recent data, the current rate of doses in Pennsylvania is three in 100, putting it at about the middle of the rates for the rest of the country’s states.
Pennsylvania’s rollout officially began on Dec. 14, and daily vaccinations in Lycoming County began to significantly increase at the start of the new year, according to data from the Department of Health. Among UPMC’s healthcare workers, about 80% have agreed to take the dose. As of yet, healthcare providers are not requiring employees to take the vaccine.
The rollout is overwhelming both for large and small providers. Still in the 1A phase of providing doses to healthcare workers, UPMC Susquehanna continues to work through it’s roughly 5,500 employees.
River Valley Health and Dental, on Hepburn Street in Williamsport, with a much smaller staff, has administered 320 vaccinations to date, and averages roughly 50 per day, according to President and CEO James Yoxtheimer. The medical facility, which services an average of 17,000 people in Lycoming County, is also able to provide 10% of its supply to people outside of its health system as well as offering the vaccine to local law enforcement when extra doses are available.
“We don’t want to waste anything,” said Dr. Kayla Richardson, chief medical doctor for River Valley Health and Dental. “We’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of police officers who wanted to take it.”
A normal vaccine takes nine to 10 years to develop, so the COVID-19 vaccine’s record-breaking, year-long development has caused many to pause. While the concern is understandable, no shortcuts were made, said Dalal, who is a part of the Infectious Disease Society of America and stayed informed on the creation of the vaccine throughout the year.
“Everything got fast-tracked because absolutely all hands were on deck. But absolutely no shortcuts were taken,” Dalal said.
Dalal just received his second dose and was back to work that same day. He said he felt a slight fever and muscle aches, but after taking some Tylenol the pain was gone.
These minor side effects are common, he said, but unlike the flu vaccine, patients’ bodies aren’t infected with COVID-19, Dalal said, adding that these are easier to tolerate than getting the real COVID-19 virus.
“This is one of the most safest, efficacious I have seen in my lifetime,” Dalal said. “This is way easier to tolerate rather than getting the real virus.”
As Dalal looks toward the summer, he said it is important for at least 70% of Americans to receive the vaccine. This will help the entire population develop a “herd immunity,” which will work to eradicate the virus’s foothold globally and in the United States.
“Whenever the vaccine is available to you, please do take it,” Dalal said. When the numbers have decreased globally and across the country, “then we can start looking forward to a nice 2021 summer.”