COVID Vaccine FAQs
Last Updated March 29, 2021
My office continues to hear from constituents who are having trouble getting a COVID vaccine. I am continually working to understand what the roadblocks are and get the answers that we all are eager for. Since January, I’ve been working with county and state officials and other state legislators to push for more vaccines for Chester County and Southeastern PA.
Here are the answers to some of our most frequently asked questions:
How do I get a vaccine appointment?
- Pre-register on the county health department website via this form:
As of Monday, March 29, 2021, Chester County has launched a new vaccine pre-registration and scheduling system. All individuals in Phase 1A can now go to the county site and schedule an appointment for a vaccine.
Anyone in Phase 1A who previously registered with the Chester County Health Department should receive an e-mail inviting you to set a password and schedule an appointment. Your place in line is preserved, and you will be able to see your original registration date in the new system. If you miss the email, you can still go to the county site linked above.
Individuals in other phases may register and create a password in the new system. They will be contacted to schedule a vaccine when the county reaches their phase.
Those in Phase 1A who are uncomfortable using the system or do not have access to a computer can call the County Health Department Call Center at 610-344-6225 and schedule an appointment over the phone.
- Check with your local hospital or healthcare network, such as Main Line Health or Penn Medicine. If you sign up for their health system portal (My Chart, etc.), many are allowing you to sign up to be notified when they have doses available to the public.
- Register with your health insurance company portal, and be sure to allow text and email notifications. We have heard from constituents in Phase 1A who were contacted by their insurance provider to schedule a vaccine.
- Connect with your local pharmacy (including grocery store pharmacies) and urgent care center, bearing in mind that the number of vaccines being distributed to local pharmacies and urgent care facilities is very small. At an average of 100-400 doses each week, their capacity is still extremely limited. Follow their procedure and avoid calling incessantly. The volume of phone calls and people showing up without appointments in person is hindering their ability to get vaccines in arms.
A map of vaccine providers can be found on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.
How can someone who is homebound get a vaccine?
Chester County Health Department, in partnership with the Chester County Department of Aging Services, Meals on Wheels of Chester County, and the PA Department of Aging, has begun vaccine outreach to homebound individuals and groups.
If you or someone you know is in this situation, you may:
- Call Chester County’s COVID-19 call center at 610-344-6225, or
- Email CCHD@chesco.org with the name, address, phone number, and email address of the person needing a vaccine, or
- Contact my office at email@example.com or 484-200-8259
What about help for seniors or others who are not comfortable using the internet or do not have access?
On February 11, Governor Wolf and PA Secretary of Aging Robert Torres announced some additional options for seniors seeking help finding an appointment for a vaccine:
- PACE, the state’s prescription assistance program, will be proactively reaching out to cardholders and will have a special scheduling unit to help arrange appointments, transportation to the vaccination site, and even working with PACE’s pharmacy network members to vaccinate at a cardholder’s residence, if necessary. Card holders can contact PACE at 1-800-225-7223.
- The Pennsylvania Link to Aging and Disability Resource Center will also take calls and assist with vaccine scheduling, at 1-800-753-8827.
- Seniors without internet access or a family member who can help them can also call their local Area Agency on Aging. In Chester County, the number is 610-344-6350.
Why is Pennsylvania behind other states?
The Becker's Hospital Review article has been shared far and wide, but it fails to tell the whole story. So, I’ll try to shed a little more light on the situation.
I have a former boss who always said, “you can’t take percentages to the bank.” While much has been made of the fact that Pennsylvania has sometimes been further down on the Becker’s list in terms of vaccines administered as a percentage of total vaccine doses received, the very same report shows that Pennsylvania is fifth in the nation for the actual number of doses delivered into people’s arms, with 5,795,550 administered as of March 29. (Pennsylvania is ranked fifth nationally in population and is number eight in the country by percentage of population over the age of 65.)
The percentages vary for a lot of reasons. One is that Pennsylvania has the capacity to store and/or deliver 100% of what is being offered, so Pennsylvania is drawing down 100% of what is being offered to our state by the feds. Not all states are taking 100% of their allotment because they don’t have the same capacities we do. If a state does not have the freezer storage capacity or healthcare infrastructure to the extent that we do, they have not all been able to take 100% of what is available to them from the federal government. They are ranking higher because they’ve administered a bigger portion of the smaller number that they’ve been able to take.
What is Rep. Otten doing to get more vaccines to Chester County?
Since vaccines became available, Chester County and our neighboring counties in the Southeast have been receiving a disproportionately lower share of the state’s allocation compared to other Pennsylvania counties.
On January 31, I sent an email to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) requesting answers to why Chester County appeared to be receiving far less than its fair share of vaccine. For instance, certain counties at that time were receiving enough doses to cover more than 30% of their eligible population, whereas southeastern Pennsylvania continued to receive only enough doses to cover less than 10% of its population.
On February 10, I joined my colleagues from across Chester County in sending a letter to the state Department of Health to insist that this shortfall be corrected. The DOH made a commitment to increase our allocations and “right-size” the supply; however, we have so far not seen a satisfactory increase in distribution or received satisfactory responses to our many questions.
DOH has often referred to the fact that Chester County’s percent of population vaccinated (available here) aligns with the average across other counties. However, this does not account for the fact that so many of our residents have left the county to get their vaccines, because appointments have not been available in Chester County. We need to correct the allocations so that all residents of Pennsylvania have equitable access to vaccine appointments in the counties where they live or work.
Since January and February, I have personally made a few basic asks of the Department of Health:
- A fair and equitable distribution formula that is made public to all of us for accountability purposes. Our Commissioners have laid out the case for Chester County to the state, and in follow-up conversations, the state has agreed to “right-size” the distribution to get more vaccines to Chester County and our neighboring counties in Southeastern PA. We are going to hold them to this commitment.
- Accessibility for our seniors and folks with different abilities. I spent an evening trying to navigate the process for a senior family member in early February and was appalled at the user experience and the fact that everything leads back to websites that are far from optimized for a smooth user experience. We’ve asked for low-tech options, including phone hotlines, large-print information, accessible lists of providers, and easy-to-use sites. See below for some promising updates on this.
- A centralized, integrated information system to allow for faster reporting, scheduling, and data collection and analysis.
Why is Chester County receiving fewer doses than other counties?
On March 7, DOH shared more information with legislators from Southeastern PA about its formula for determining vaccine distribution to the counties, after repeated requests from legislators for this information. The four factors considered by the state, in consultation with the federal government, for vaccine allocation are weighted as follows:
- Population: 20%
- Population over the age of 65: 30%
- Total (cumulative) positive cases of COVID-19: 20%
- Total (cumulative) deaths due to COVID-19: 30%
Some counties may legitimately receive what at first appears to be disproportionately more vaccines because they contain the only hospital or health system in a wide surrounding area and serve populations beyond their own counties. However, it is still the belief of the legislators and commissioners representing Chester County that our county has been short-changed.
I have argued, along with my colleagues, that both overall population and population in Phase 1A should hold a greater weight in the formula above. Chester County and the Southeast have a far greater concentration of health care professionals than many Pennsylvania counties, meaning that it has taken longer to get through our health care professionals alone.
Being the first to shut down and last to be vaccinated is an absolute injustice to the people of our communities. The southeast has lived with this pandemic longer than any other region of the state. Our people and our economy have been more impacted than anywhere else in this commonwealth.
As mentioned above, I, along with my colleagues, will continue to push the administration until Chester County receives its fair allocation.
Why are Philadelphia and some other states already on Phase 1B while Pennsylvania is not even finished 1A?
Simply put, different states define the phases differently. Philadelphia County, whose vaccine distribution operates separately from the rest of the state, also uses its own criteria. For example, in Delaware, Phase 1A is only healthcare workers, EMS agencies, and long-term-care staff and residents, while in Pennsylvania, Phase 1A also includes anyone 65+ and those under 65 with certain health conditions. Philadelphia and certain states are “through 1A” because their “1A” is much smaller.
Why is West Virginia doing so well? What are they doing differently?
West Virginia opted out of the Federal Pharmacy Partnership (FPP) with CVS and Walgreens. The FPP program is tasked with vaccinations for all of the long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted-living communities. In West Virginia, they felt they did not have enough of these pharmacies in their state, so they have taken on distribution at the state level. This has proven to be a decision that has given them more control and flexibility, and they have been able to utilize the full capacity of their statewide infrastructure, like local independent pharmacies, something we are still struggling to do in Pennsylvania.
For example, my father-in-law’s assisted living facility has a working relationship with Town Center Pharmacy in Eagleview, an independent pharmacy. Every long-term care facility has an existing relationship like this. Instead of waiting for CVS or Walgreens to get to every facility, West Virginia distributed vaccines through all of their local pharmacies, and those pharmacies were responsible for the facilities and qualifying customers with whom they already have relationships. This seems to have been a good plan that has allowed them to have a tremendous amount of flexibility and efficiency.
Why can’t my doctor/local pharmacy administer vaccines? They applied to be a provider!
The Department of Health is working with the CDC to approve providers as sufficient doses of the vaccine become available. The DOH compares approving too many providers before we have sufficient vaccine to slicing the pie too thin. There are currently 600 retail providers, and each is receiving only about 100-300 doses per week. If 1,000 more providers were approved right now, the number of doses per provider would be too small to be efficient or effective. As our supply from the federal government increases and the state finishes vaccinating healthcare workers and long-term care facilities, more local providers will be approved.
There are three distribution channels:
- Federal Pharmacy Partnership - CVS/Walgreens - Long Term Care - projected to be complete by mid-April
- Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership - Rite Aid/Topco
- targeted mapping to serve underserved communities
- federal process for approval
- currently 600 providers with supplies and 1,500 enrolled
- Regional Healthcare Networks and 10 County or Municipal Health Departments
The doses at this point have gone to the partners who could deliver to the most vulnerable, the most efficiently. The hospitals and health departments did healthcare workers. The pharmacies, with the help of the Pennsylvania National Guard, are doing long term care. As those two missions come to completion, they are making what is left over available locally for the next people in line.
I saw on the news that CVS and Walgreens will be offering vaccinations under the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Why wasn’t PA on the list of states?
We confirmed with the Pennsylvania Department of Health that Pennsylvania IS participating the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program; however, our federal pharmacy partners are Rite Aid and Topco, rather than CVS and Walgreens. (Topco operates grocery store pharmacies, including Acme, ShopRite, Wegmans, Weis Markets, and many others.) There are 21 pharmacy networks participating in the program across the United States, so different states have different providers. CVS and Walgreens will continue to provide vaccinations to long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care.
Why are pediatricians getting vaccines when their patient population does not qualify to receive the vaccine?
I took a look at all the numbers statewide. The number of vaccines distributed to pediatricians has been small, fewer than 10,000 statewide as of February 1. I was concerned when I heard that pediatricians had received vaccines, but there are two things worth considering: Pediatricians often will see a patient until the age of 24, which makes some of their patients eligible. There are some young people and their family members who qualify for 1A, if they have a health condition that puts them at risk, like a heart defect, diabetes, cancer, etc. Based on the small number of vaccines that went to pediatric practices, I do not think this issue is the root of our problems.
Where are the one million doses that have been shipped to PA but not administered?
This is a good old fashioned trust issue. The Department reported on February 5 that 83 percent of first-dose vaccines received by the state have been administered; however, many providers have been holding back second doses because they don’t trust that they’ll have enough incoming supply to provide them, largely because of the visibility issue explained above. The state Department of Health is working to shake the trees and get those doses administered. If these providers could see with their own eyes that they will have what they need, they would feel more confident.
PA DOH and the Biden Administration have advised providers not to hold back second doses, a requirement contained in their vaccine program provider agreement with the CDC.
On February 17, the PA Department of Health announced that the state is working to manage a shortage of second-doses of the Moderna vaccine. We are pushing for answers to reconcile that information with the information about second doses being held back. In the meantime, you should know that:
- Chester County Health Department believes that our county should be able to meet all second-dose commitments for those who have received first doses in the county.
- My office is working with the county health department and PA DOH to ensure that constituents who received a first dose will be able to receive a second dose within the 28- to 42-day window. If you have received a first dose and now find your second dose in jeopardy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.
What should I do now? How can I be assured of receiving a vaccine?
The above questions and answers explain the government's part. And we all must do our part, too.
First, we truly need to exercise patience. Chester County is working through its list, and if you registered, you *will* receive a call, based on your eligibility and the date of your registration. While I know that many people from our county have driven far outside the county and even out of state to find appointments, I urge you to sit tight if you can, and wait for availability from our local providers, your health care network, or the county.
Across the state, folks with resources from affluent areas have taken available vaccine spots in poorer communities. In many cases these locations are their only access point, without access to transportation, which is a huge barrier for those living in low-income communities. We’re hearing about a lot of barriers in literacy and internet access. Doses are not sitting there unwanted; we’re all just faster at gobbling up the appointments because we have the means, and in many cases the ability to refresh browsers throughout the workday as we work from home, unlike essential workers who are at higher risk of contracting COVID and unable to search for appointments from their in-person, public-facing jobs. Let’s do our part to leave appointments for people in the communities where they live, especially those who are less fortunate than we are.
If you have made it this far in the pandemic with a roof over your head, food on your plate, and the financial ability to sustain yourself, I ask you to be patient for a little bit longer. As my friend Rep. Summer Lee says so well, “We're only out of this when the last person thinks of their neighbor first.”
There will be enough vaccine for everyone. Our scientists and pharmaceutical companies created three FDA-approved, incredibly effective vaccines in less than one year—that in itself is a triumph of science and technology and a true cause for celebration. This is a massive undertaking, the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes, and we need to have patience, even in the best-case scenarios. Yes, it is taking some time. Yes, the process has often been frustrating and confusing. The really good news is that this will only get better. Improvements in communication, supply, and delivery are becoming evident every day, at the federal, state, county, and provider levels.
My promise to you is that I will continue to push for answers, fight to get Chester County vaccinated as quickly, fairly, and efficiently as possible, and continue to get information to you as I receive it. We will get through this together.