Pennsylvania will update its vaccine distribution plan to provide doses to adults over the age of 65, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Tuesday.
Levine declined to say exactly when the change will take effect. Federal officials announced earlier Tuesday that they are calling on states to move to provide vaccines to more older Americans amidst criticism over the pace of the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are more than 2.3 million Pennsylvanians over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census.
Levine said that state officials must first review the new guidance from the federal government before making any changes to the way coronavirus vaccines are being distributed. Thus far, Pennsylvania has been providing all of its COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers and to nursing home residents and staff.
Prior to Tuesday's change, the next groups in line for the vaccine were seniors over the age of 75 living independently, along with a variety of essential workers, like teachers and prison guards.
Levine said that 311,477 vaccine doses have been administered in the state. COVID-19 vaccine doses will be provided to nursing home residents and staff at 159 facilities this week, she said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 974,000 doses of vaccine have been provided to Pennsylvania.
Currently, staff from the pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens are providing the immunizations in the state’s nursing homes. Levine said that the state plans to make vaccine doses available in pharmacies for other people who immunized “in the coming weeks.”
The federal COVID relief package that passed in December is expected to provide about $100 million for the state to ramp up vaccination distribution, she said. That funding will allow the state to open mass vaccination clinics as more people become eligible for immunizations, she said.
Gov. Tom Wolf joined Levine at a press conference to stress that all the evidence suggests that the approved COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
“I am here to tell you that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe to use, and very good at protecting people who are vaccinated,” Wolf said. “If you hear a rumor about COVID-19 from a friend, or see something online that concerns you, take a few minutes to verify the information before you get too worried. Five minutes of fact-checking can save you and your loved ones a lot of worry.”