How Pennsylvania reached 70% vaccination goal quicker than most

Posted at 11:49 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-28 09:42:13-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As President Biden's July 4 goal of vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine inched closer, Pennsylvania became the tenth state to meet that goal on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in Virginia, 66% of adults had been vaccinated with at least one shot.

Virginia's Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said Thursday, the state was on track to meet the 70% goal, possibly even earlier than July 4 but was not there yet.

Dr. Avula said for a while, the demand for vaccines in the state was higher than supply, but last month demand began to wane.

CBS 6 asked Pennsylvania health leaders how the state, with a substantially larger population, was able to reach the milestone before most other states.

"The how and why is absolutely in partnership with our provider community," said Pennsylvania Department of Health Acting Secretary, Alison Beam. "They have been incredibly helpful in making sure we’re moving the vaccine product in a way that’s as convenient as possible and done as effectively as possible."

Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania Vaccine
Meg Edwards, left, of Flourtown, Pa., comforts her daughter, Kate Edwards, 15, as she receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination from registered nurse Philene Moore at a Montgomery County, Pa. Office of Public Health vaccination clinic at the King of Prussia Mall, Tuesday, May 11, 2021, in King of Prussia, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

But the process of getting vaccines into the arms of adults wasn’t always straightforward.

In February, the Associated Press reported Pennsylvania among the lowest-ranked states in how efficiently it was vaccinating its population.

But in March, the state moved from a CDC ranking 30 to 17, when providers were ordered to speed up the process, according to the AP.

Once demand began to wane, the state greatly expanded its network of COVID vaccine providers, so the vaccine was easily accessible.

Now, even amid lower demand, the state still sees tens of thousands of doses administered per day, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

"If it's easy and available, and people have the information, then more people will get vaccinated," said Pennsylvania Acting Physician General, Dr. Denise Johnson. "We've been doing them in schools, we’ve even had providers doing them in shopping areas."

Dr. Johnson, according to Secretary Beam, played another key role in the state's successful vaccination rates. She was spearheading a hesitancy campaign that Beam said was in the works since January, then strategically rolled out in the spring amidst lower demand.

Dr. Johnson held regular townhalls in a Facebook Live series called ‘Vax Facts.'

"Just open to let people know, it's okay to ask questions. It's okay to have concerns. And we will give you the answers," Dr. Johnson said.

And she even had the satisfaction of seeing her hard work come full circle when a conversation with a hesitant helper at a mobile clinic led to that worker's decision to get the vaccine.

"I did have the honor of administering that vaccine," said Dr. Johnson.

These strategies aren’t all that different than ones being implemented in Virginia, where Virginia’s Vaccination Coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula said 66% of adults have had at least one dose.

"I'm in contact with my colleagues around the country on a regular basis, learning from each other, talking about what's working and what's not working," said Dr. Avula.

He said over the last few weeks, Virginia had been working to get the vaccine to more primary care providers and beyond.

"Continuing just think about where are all the places that people are," said Dr. Avula.

Dr. Johnson said there had been some logistical challenges in getting large amounts of vaccine doses to smaller practices since those practices can't accommodate more than about 1,000 doses at one time.

She said they were having to partner with larger facilities to get a smaller number of doses.

And there was still work to be done. As of Thursday, about 43% of Pennsylvania's population had yet to receive their first dose of the vaccine.

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