COVID-19 vaccine frustrations are mounting in Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Frustrations are mounting over registration for the COVID-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania as we head into another week of the rollout.

Heidi Gibbons, a nurse practitioner, reached out to Action News after she failed to get confirmation that the registration forms she filled out for her 94-year-old mother were accepted.

She is left wondering if her mother is in a queue to receive the shots. Her mother lives in an independent living facility, which is not considered a nursing home in Bucks County, but she also maintains a residence in Philadelphia.

"When you apply on these websites you get no confirmation whatsoever. So it's like putting her name into cyberspace and I really don't know if she's technically on a waiting list anywhere," said Gibbons.

Gibbons is not alone. Officials are urging people to apply through county websites where they live and work, which includes signing up in more than one county if you live in one and work in another.

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If the county where you live and work does not have that option, sign-up through the Pennsylvania Health Department's website.

With the new expansion of eligibility, there are now 3.5 million Pennsylvanians who are eligible, but there's simply are not enough vaccines yet.

Philadelphia's Department of Health operates separate from the state and receives its own allotment of the vaccine directly from the CDC.

Currently, they only have an "interest form" but still urge people to sign up. Health officials plan to use it as a starting point once there are more vaccines.

Philadelphia is operating in the 1B Phase. The Commonwealth is still operating in Phase 1A.

Frustrations are not limited to signing up, but also how people in each category are vetted.

Since healthcare workers are included in such a wide spectrum, only healthcare workers in major health systems are easily vetted.

Someone claiming to be a home health care aide is trusted on an honor system.

The same goes for underlying conditions with the exception of cancer patients or organ donor recipients. The health department has an easier time contacting their physicians.

"To a large degree, we can't verify most of the people who are coming through," said James Garrow, a spokesperson with the Philadelphia Department of Health. "We want to make the vaccine available to as many people as possible, but at the same time we don't have enough to get to everybody."

"Rather than us going through and checking documentation and having to go through databases, we're taking it at people's word," Garrow added. "If someone who is not in one of these prioritized groups, they are taking it from someone who has cancer or who just had an organ transplant. It's not ideal. We'd love to be able to do this in a way that doesn't rely on people's goodwill."

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