The state of COVID-19 vaccinations in Pennsylvania
As Pennsylvania continues to fight the ongoing pandemic, the state is involved in various efforts to increase vaccination rates.
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As the fight against the novel coronavirus continues, now is a good time to dive into the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to be done.
The initial rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine took place just before the calendars turned to 2021. As the months went on, more and more adults — and later some children — became eligible to receive it.
As the one-year anniversary of the vaccine rollout approaches in the next few months, many conclusions can be drawn about what has taken place.
On Sept. 16, Dr. Denise Johnson, Acting Physician General at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, spoke with AL DÍA to talk about where we stand today, and detail some of the efforts the state is involved in to get more people vaccinated against the virus.
Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 1,420,478 total cases of COVID-19 in the state of Pennsylvania, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
In comparison to the number of cases, 16,038,687 total vaccines (9,194,768 partial and 7,350,438 full) have been administered with 57.4% of the state fully vaccinated and 71.8% partially vaccinated, according to Health Data.
Across the state’s 67 counties, the number of people fully vaccinated varies. In some counties, such as Montour, Lehigh, Chester and Allegheny, the percentage of residents fully vaccinated is above 65%, with Montour currently leading the way at 74.5%.
In other counties such as Juniata, Susquehanna and Bradford, the rate of fully vaccinated individuals is at 40% and below.
“We’ve seen the heavily populated urban counties really seem to have a little bit higher vaccination rates,” said Dr. Johnson. “And sometimes access to the vaccine is easier in the urban areas than in the rural counties.”
The reasoning behind the uneven vaccination rates across the state can be linked to both geographic and ideological reasoning.
When asked why many people are deciding against getting vaccinated, Dr. Johnson noted several reasons, such as political beliefs, concerns about potential side effects and a lack of credible information.
With science continuing to point to getting vaccinated as the most effective way to combat the virus, there are a number of efforts underway to increase the number of vaccinated across the state.
“We’ve had a multi-pronged approach from the state,” said Dr. Johnson. “We’re using lots and lots of different initiatives to make sure that we get every eligible Pennsylvanian vaccinated.”
She noted that two major focus areas of those initiatives are access and information.
The state has made an effort to get more people vaccinated by expanding access from hospital clinics, large chain pharmacies and independent pharmacies, and physician offices to other non-traditional places.
This includes houses of worship, indoor and outdoor community events, state parks, mobile clinics, and in some instances, door-to-door.
“Any place that people can gather, we are doing vaccinations,” said Dr. Johnson.
In terms of information, the overarching goal is to provide credible information that will help individuals make informed decisions on getting vaccinated, with help from a number of community partners.
The PA Department of Health website includes a number of resources in different languages, with messaging also spreading to social media channels.
“We’ve understood that the messenger is just as important or maybe even more important than the message,” said Dr. Johnson. “So we have engaged our community partners to be able to carry that message so that people can hear the vaccine information in their language, as well as from a person who looks like them.”
Overall, Pennsylvania is doing fairly well in terms of vaccination rate; however, Dr. Johnson noted there is always room for improvement.
To date, Pennsylvania has seen 29,323 COVID-19 related deaths, according to the Pennsylvania COVID-19 dashboard. In addition, there are about 4,313 new cases per day.
With the emergence of the Delta variant — which is more highly transmissible — leading to increased infections, hospitalizations and death, the need to get as many people as possible vaccinated becomes even more paramount.
“We still need to make sure that people are going out there and getting vaccinated because the cases that we’re seeing, the hospitalizations and certainly the deaths that we’re seeing, are overwhelmingly in the unvaccinated,” Dr. Johnson added.
“So getting people who are not yet vaccinated, fully vaccinated, is our way out of this pandemic.”