Dozens of Pennsylvanians voiced concerns and frustrations on Pennsylvania’s vaccine roll out during a town hall with state lawmakers Thursday.
“What it comes down to is, the vaccine’s just not available, it’s not being distributed very well,” said Mary Goyda, a local senior.
Goyda’s words were echoed by many who submitted questions during the hour-long virtual event. Others expressed dismay over the lack of a statewide registration system, and claimed the health department’s online resources are “useless.”
Leaders emphasized there is limited vaccine supply and significant demand, and claimed the CDC determines how many doses are distributed to Pennsylvania.
Adding to the immediate demand, is the state’s recent update to its phasing system.
Now qualifying first, under phase 1a, are people ages 16-64 with high-risk conditions. Those conditions include smoking or having a BMI of 30 or higher, which accounts for about one-third of Pennsylvania’s population.
Next in line, in phase 1b, are first responders, postal workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, education workers and others who work with children.
Channel 11 reached out to the health department to explain the update. Here’s what they sent us:
Eligibility is based on the honor system knowing that vaccinating health care workers and our most vulnerable will have the greatest impact on keeping people healthy and saving lives.
Teachers, firefighters, police and all of the people in phase 1b play a vital role in our community and we do not want to diminish that in any way. However, our vaccine plans are designed to ensure that vaccinations happen in an ethical, equitable and efficient way.
Pennsylvania has clearly stated its goals in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccination. Our goals are to prioritize persons, while the vaccine supply remains limited, who receive the vaccine to maximize benefits and minimize harms caused by the virus, promote justice, mitigate health inequities, and promote transparency. The CDC, the FDA, and numerous studies have demonstrated that smoking disproportionately impacts those with low socioeconomic status.
According to the CDC, people of low socioeconomic status are just as likely to make quit attempts but are less likely to quit smoking cigarettes than those who are not. Additionally, tobacco companies often target their advertising campaigns toward low-income neighborhoods and communities.
Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. has some form of behavioral health condition, and these adults consume almost 40% of all cigarettes smoked by adults.
Pennsylvania remains committed to addressing health disparities in our response to this deadly pandemic. Public health experts agree smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. To mitigate these increased risks, Pennsylvania has chosen to follow the CDC’s recommendations and include smoking among the list of medical conditions putting individuals at greater risk.
We highly encourage Pennsylvanians who smoke to talk with their health care provider for supports with the addiction and develop a plan to quit. Whether you are thinking about quitting, are not yet ready to quit, or have already quit, PA Free Quitline can help you with each step of the way. Call the PA Free Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).
People 65 and older, and those 16-64 with comorbidities, have been disproportionally impacted by COVID-19, with the highest number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in this group.
Getting vaccine to all Pennsylvanians is primary in our mission, but we must take care of the most vulnerable now to prevent future hospitalizations and save lives.
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