Officials in Philly suburbs clash with Pa. Health Department over vaccine allotment

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021
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A showdown is brewing between the four southeastern Pennsylvania counties versus the Pennsylvania Department of Health over the allotment of COVID-19 vaccines.

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- A showdown is brewing between the four southeastern Pennsylvania counties and the Pennsylvania Department of Health over the allotment of COVID-19 vaccines.

Last week, county officials learned of an apparent discrepancy between the number of vaccines allotted to Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties compared to less-populated counties in the rest of the state.

The 6abc Data Team found that Delaware County ranked 45 out of the 67 counties regarding the number of vaccines received.

On Sunday, a call between counties and state elected officials and acting Health Secretary Alison Beam proved futile after some commissioners say they could not ask questions and in turn left with few answers.

SEE ALSO: Data shows Philadelphia suburbs being short-changed on COVID-19 vaccines

The four suburban counties released a statement about Sunday's meeting stating, "This afternoon's meeting with the PA Department of Health was both disappointing and frustrating. There remains a lack of transparency on the total doses that have come to our counties from every source. Therefore, we have no way to assess how the data presented to us today was calculated, and how those calculations have been used to determine the number of doses that have been allocated to our four counties. Additionally, we were not given any indication of the plan to make up acknowledged shortfalls to certain counties going forward."

Marian Moskowitz, a Democrat and the chair of the Chester County Commissioners, said they have several requests and that it is hard to understand the state's formula as to how they are rolling out vaccines.

"It is a very complicated formula; one that doesn't take into account the vaccines coming in from the federal program in that we don't know what that data is and how they determine what they get. We would like the data, a chart, showing the vaccines from all sources to be available to the public on the website. We want to know when the counties are lagging behind, such as Delaware County, are brought up to where they need to be," said Moskowitz, adding that they requested this of the state.

"We would like that insurance providers are not going to move to vaccinate into 1B with the exception of teachers and educators until 1a is completed," said Moskowitz.

Moskowitz said that during Sunday's conversation, it was her understanding that the health department agreed to halt the move into vaccinating the 1B category, but late Monday, Barry Ciccocioppo, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said that agreement has not been made.

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Ahead of the press call, the State Department of Health released this statement calling the shortchange of vaccines to southeastern Pennsylvania counties "false accusations":

"What's most important to note is the focus should be on the number of people receiving vaccinations - not on where vaccine is shipped to in the state. If the goal of the process is to get residents vaccinated, then the percentage of county residents who have received at least one dose is more representative of how well a county is doing in this process. The Department of Health has been transparent about where vaccine allocations are going. Now some have used that data, which does not provide the full story, to create a skewed picture. For example, the weekly spreadsheets we post online do not account for large health systems that have vaccine shipped to one location and then redistribute it to facilities in surrounding counties, making their home counties appear overallocated...The picture can also be skewed if you don't take into account the fact that in the early weeks when vaccine was first available, some factors created outsized impacts on allocations throughout the state."

Ciccocioppo blamed the lack of requests from some counties early on for the Pfizer vaccine because they couldn't store them properly, something several county officials deny.

"The network grew and the 1A population expanded and provider requests far outpaced allocations," said Ciccocioppo.