Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said on Friday he will nominate his deputy chief of staff, Alison Beam, as the commonwealth’s health secretary, saying she will have an “immediate” focus on distribution of the coronavirus vaccine.
Beam, who assumes the role of acting secretary on Saturday, brings a background in law to a traditionally low-profile state government job that was vaulted into the spotlight by the pandemic. Her predecessor, Rachel Levine, a physician, became for millions of Pennsylvanians the face of the state’s response to the virus; Levine is joining President Joe Biden’s administration as assistant secretary of health.
Beam, 34, takes over as more than 20,000 Pennsylvanians have died of the coronavirus, the public is battling fatigue as the pandemic nears the one-year mark, and the vaccine rollout has been slow and, for many, confusing. The state is coming out of its worst case surge to date, and deaths in recent weeks have been the highest of the pandemic.
Beam’s “immediate” focus will be on vaccine distribution, Wolf said, pledging she would work to ensure Pennsylvania gets as many doses as possible from the federal government and would coordinate the Department of Health’s work with hospitals, local governments, pharmacies, and other partners.
It’s a task that comes with significant pressure, as the rocky start to the vaccine campaign has eroded public trust nationwide. The efforts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states have been stymied by the federal government’s limited vaccine supply. But changes could be coming soon, as the Biden administration begins efforts to revamp the nation’s pandemic response and pledges aid to the states.
“All we need are the millions of doses that we’ve been promised,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday. “I am much more confident today than I was on Tuesday that we’ll get there.”
Through Thursday, 569,503 first doses of the coronavirus vaccine had been administered in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. More than 428,000 first doses had been administered in New Jersey by midday Friday.
Wolf also named Dr. Wendy Braund, the state health department’s current COVID-19 response director, as interim acting physician general. Since Levine is a doctor, she had served as both physician general and health secretary.
Levine, who in her new role would oversee the Department of Health and Human Services’ public health offices and programs, awaits confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Wolf made the announcement of Beam’s nomination via a written statement. The Department of Health declined The Inquirer’s request to interview Beam on Friday.
“Alison Beam is a talented public servant who brings years of experience in health-care policy and implementation to this position,” Wolf said. “Alison knows that a strong, widely available, and successful vaccination strategy is the path out of the pains of this pandemic.”
Beam, who was previously the chief of staff to the Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, has been involved in the Wolf administration’s coronavirus response, and she also helped coordinate the rollout of the state’s health insurance marketplace, Wolf’s health-care reform plan, and a mental health initiative called Reach Out PA. She has been Wolf’s deputy chief of staff since August 2019.
She must be confirmed by the state Senate, meaning she will face the Republicans who control the chamber and have been sharply critical of the Wolf administration’s pandemic response.
Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman said Beam has played an “integral leadership role” in the administration during the pandemic, including by coordinating public health policy and operational work across multiple agencies.
She also said Beam regularly collaborated with the Department of Health on mental health and substance-use disorder services while at the Insurance Department.
“She is a proven leader whose career has been defined by her in-depth health-care knowledge and ability to successfully execute on even the most difficult of challenges,” Altman said in a statement to The Inquirer.
Beam, of Camp Hill, got her undergraduate education studying health policy and administration at Pennsylvania State University; she graduated in 2008, according to her LinkedIn profile. And she has Philadelphia ties: She graduated from Drexel University School of Law in 2013 and worked for Independence Health Group in Center City as director of public policy and associate counsel.
Michael A. Young, president and CEO of Temple University Health System and Temple University Hospital, who has worked with Beam in the past, said she “will bring a wealth of health-care experience.”
Pennsylvania reported 5,338 newly confirmed cases on Friday, as the rate of infection continued to decrease, though it was another day with a high death count: 193. Philadelphia reported 367 cases and 28 deaths.
While city officials said the vaccine supply remains “extremely limited,” residents can sign up to be notified when they’re eligible to make an appointment at phila.gov/vaccineinterest.
Philadelphia announced a relief program for restaurants and gyms, to be launched next week, that will offer a total of $12 million in grants to small businesses impacted by the shutdown. Businesses will be able to receive up to $15,000 each through an application process that will open Thursday at 11 a.m. at phila.gov/RGRP.
Chester and Delaware Counties relaunched preregistration forms on Friday; any resident can complete the form to register their interest. Delaware County residents can access the form at chesco.seamlessdocs.com/f/delcovac. Chester County residents can go to chesco.seamlessdocs.com/f/chescovac.
Delaware County will open a COVID-19 call center next week, staffed by people who will answer questions and assist people without computer or email access, the county said.
New Jersey confirmed its first two cases of the new, more contagious COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom, Murphy announced Friday. The state reported 3,694 cases and 118 deaths.
Staff writers Allison Steele, Bethany Ao, and Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.