HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday the health department is monitoring both Pfizer and Moderna, who are close to finishing their Phase 3 trials for each of their COVID-19 vaccines, as the state reported more than 7,000 new cases.
Levine said soon after Phase 3 is complete, both companies will request an Emergency Use Authorization through the FDA. Once the FDA completes their review on the vaccines, the FDA will grant an EUA. The CDC will then review and provide recommendations for the vaccines.
When the companies are given the green light, she said the state will be ready but admits the process will be challenging.
"It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania. I anticipate will be wearing masks in 2021. Well into maybe the end of 2021," said Dr. Rachel Levine.
Once approved, the state Department of Health will work to ensure the vaccines are distributed from manufacturers to providers.
"It is important to remember that when the vaccines are available, there may be a limited supply, which means that not everyone will be able to get the vaccine right away," Levine said.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health's vaccine plan has three phases of distribution.
The first phase: It will focus on reaching critical populations due to the limited supply, which includes health care personnel, EMS first responders, critical workers maintaining core functions and essential workers, people 65 and older, and residents in congregate care settings.
The second phase: The health department anticipates a large number of vaccines will be available.
"This will allow us to ensure that those in Phase One who were not yet vaccinated can do so," Levine said.
The department will then expand its efforts to targeted populations, including vulnerable populations and those with health conditions who may be at high risk.
The third phase: This begins when the state has sufficient supplies of the vaccine or vaccines.
"In this phase we will begin to ensure the entire population has access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccinations," Levine said.
If the Federal approval process remains on the track, Levine said, there could be a vaccine in the next month. However, she said, it is not known how quickly the vaccine supply will meet the demand.
"A lot will depend on how much vaccine we get, which will determine how many people we vaccinate and again both those produces require two vaccinations," said Levine.
Montgomery County health care worker, Kim Allen, volunteered for the Moderna vaccine trials. She is excited about the promising results.
"Our immunization programs in the United States are credited with having controlled and eliminated the spread of epidemic disease like small pox, measles, mumps, rubella," said Allen.
Pennsylvania health leaders said there will be logistical challenges and other obstacles with distributing and administering a vaccine to the entire state, but say they are ready and are confident it will be safe.
"Every treatment can have some side effects but there have been no serious side effects. Most of the side effects have been some soreness at the site, maybe some tiredness or headache but the evidence so far is that they are very well tolerated," said Levine.
Levine said while it's good news about the progress of the COVID-19 vaccines, it is important for Pennsylvanians to follow the targeted mitigation orders set in place.
"It is important to remember that when the vaccine becomes available, it will not be a cure - certainly not an immediate cure or end to the coronavirus pandemic," Levine said.
More than 7,000 New Cases
The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 7,126 additional positive cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the statewide total to 288,978.
This is the highest daily increase of cases.
Officials said there are 2,904 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19.
Of that number, 628 patients are in the intensive care unit with COVID-19. Most of the patients hospitalized are ages 65 or older, and most of the deaths have occurred in patients 65 or older.
The trend in the 14-day moving average of number of hospitalized patients per day has increased by nearly 1,700 since the end of September, the health department said.
Statewide percent positivity for the week of November 6 - November 12 stood at 9.6%.
The number of tests administered within the last seven days between November 12 and November 18 is 389,594 with 38,484 positive cases. There were 55,713 test results reported to the department through 10 p.m., November 18.
As of 11:59 p.m., Wednesday, November 18, there were 116 new deaths reported for a total of 9,581 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
There are 10,594 individuals who have a positive viral antigen test and are considered probable cases and 643 individuals who have a positive serology test and either COVID-19 symptoms or a high-risk exposure.
There are 2,629,527 individuals who have tested negative to date.
Of those who have tested positive to date the age breakdown is as follows:
Approximately 1% are ages 0-4;
Nearly 3% are ages 5-12;
Approximately 5% are ages 13-18;
Approximately 13% are ages 19-24;
Nearly 37% are ages 25-49;
Approximately 21% are ages 50-64; and
Nearly 20% are ages 65 or older.
Officials said in nursing and personal care homes, there are 30,786 resident cases of COVID-19, and 6,265 cases among employees, for a total of 36,589 at 1,184 distinct facilities in 63 counties. Out of the total deaths, 6,169 have occurred in residents from nursing or personal care facilities.
Approximately 13,786 of our total cases are among health care workers.
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Montco Schools Ordered to go Virtual
Health officials in Pennsylvania's third-most populous county ordered schools Friday to temporarily halt classroom instruction in what they said was an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Montgomery County Board of Health mandated that all public and private K-12 schools in the suburban Philadelphia county offer virtual instruction for two weeks beginning Nov. 23.
The unanimous vote came one day after dozens of parents and school administrators expressed vehement opposition to the plan, calling online education insufficient and accusing the health board of failing to present any evidence linking schools to the wider outbreak.
Board members said Friday that rising cases counts and hospitalizations, along with the potential that children will contract the virus over Thanksgiving break and then spread it in schools, required them to act.
"I completely understand their concerns," said board member Dr. Francis Jeyaraj, a pediatrician. "But these are difficult times for all of us. It's a total community effort."
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Sports and in-person classes will continue as planned for the foreseeable future for the Central Bucks School District, the third-largest in the state. The decision was confirmed by Superintendent Dr. John Kopicki, which resonated well with students and parents.
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