Pa. short COVID-19 vaccine second doses after major mix-up

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the newly-formed joint task force Wednesday assured people that they could get their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, after some providers inadvertently gave doses of the Moderna vaccine as first doses that were meant to be second doses.

There is a shortage of tens of thousands of doses, Department of Health officials said, after the situation was discovered this weekend. This had been going on since January, officials said.

This could impact more than 100,000 Pennsylvanians who might have to delay either their second or first doses of the Moderna vaccine. Those who got the Pfizer vaccine are not affected.

The timing of administering the second dose may also be adjusted, but will be given within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended time frame of 42 days after the first dose.

Confusion over which providers will receive the vaccine was attributed to poor communication and the need for more frequent outreach, said acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam.

“While the second dose was given either three or four weeks later during the clinical trials, the CDC has provided some leeway in the schedule, given the limited amounts of vaccine available,” said Dr. Paul Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Immunologically, waiting six weeks after the first dose to administer the second dose will surely result in the same booster response as that found during the three- to four-week interval.”

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The Department of Health said the state would address the shortage by using some of its stockpile inventory and by extending the time between first and second doses for some patients.

The state acknowledged the public’s growing frustration with the vaccine roll-out and accepted part of the blame for this problem which it said was due to a lack of communication with providers. But the despite a pledge for more transparency the state wouldn’t say which providers made the mix-up.

Jeff Wilson, owner of Wilson’s Pharmacy in Bloomfield, said he has done everything by the book, but he is afraid smaller pharmacies like his won’t be able to serve the needs of their customers.

“I heard from another pharmacist that they made a decision to give it only to the large healthcare systems and counties,” he said. “But I think they maybe now realize how important the small pharmacy are as far as getting people taken care of. It’s high on our list of things to do.”

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The Department of Health is monitoring inventory of the vaccine across the state. To maximize getting the vaccine to people, they will start pulling extra inventory from the vaccine providers that can get 80% of the doses into arms within a week.

This week, the state was given 183,575 first doses of vaccine and 143,275 second doses of vaccine.