With complaints mounting in the Philadelphia area and across the country about shortages so severe that coronavirus vaccine appointments come with long wait times or have been canceled, the Biden administration announced a “wartime effort” to boost shipments and to aim for inoculating 300 million Americans during the next several months.
Along with increasing distributions to the states 16% in the next three weeks, Biden said the government would be purchasing an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines.
Biden said, “This is enough vaccine to vaccinate 300 million Americans by end of summer, early fall.”
Tens of thousands of vaccine appointments across the country have been canceled because of supply shortages. Philadelphia officials advised Tuesday that it could take several months to vaccinate essential workers and the 90,000 people over 75, in addition to those who have underlying health issues.
But suggesting that supplies weren’t the only problem, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday that Pennsylvania must improve its vaccine distribution process and officials are mulling ways to get more shots in arms.
“We recognize that we need to do a better job,” Wolf said. Pennsylvania ranks 41st out of the 50 states in terms of the percentage of people given at least one shot, according to the New York Times’ vaccine rollout tracker.
While Pennsylvania has no plans for a centralized scheduling system or phone hotline, like the one New Jersey opened Monday, Wolf said the commonwealth would consider establishing one if it determined a hotline would speed up the process.
Wolf’s comments came on a day that the state announced 219 additional coronavirus-related deaths. Fatalities have increased in the last two months in Pennsylvania, compared with summer and fall. Across the river, Camden County said that the last 30 days have been the deadliest since the pandemic took hold, with 167 fatalities in that period.
Camden School Superintendent Katrina McCombs said Tuesday that the district has delayed reopening schools for in-person learning until at least April 12. In-person classes had been scheduled to resume Monday.
More than 1,100 COVID-19 related deaths have been reported this month in Philadelphia and its seven neighboring counties, according to an Inquirer analysis.
However, confirmed-case numbers have been trending better in both states, officials said. In New Jersey, 4,117 cases were reported Tuesday, part of a continued downward trend.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations continued to decline in Pennsylvania, said acting Health Secretary Alison Beam in her first news briefing since taking over for Rachel Levine, who has been nominated to join the Biden administration.
Philadelphia also has seen a drop in positive tests. The city had an average of 401 new cases per day in the week that ended Saturday, said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, compared with 518 in the previous week. Deaths also have decreased, from 85 during the week of Jan. 3 to 61 deaths the following week.
Philadelphia School Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. was expected to announce plans on Wednesday to move to a hybrid learning model for the city’s schools, although the city says it is weeks away from vaccinating all its teachers.
Farley said the city was doing all it can to get people vaccinated.
“Overall we are making progress, but we still have to manage the problem of a low number of doses,” he said. “We know this is a very frustrating period for people. It’s very frustrating for everyone.”
As of Tuesday, the city had administered 90,600 first doses of the vaccine and 24,600 second doses, said Caroline Johnson, the deputy health commissioner.
Farley said the health department has been overwhelmed with emails and phone calls from frustrated residents who want to know how or when they can get vaccinated.
On Monday, the city abruptly ended its partnership with Philly Fighting COVID, a group overseeing the city’s largest vaccination site, after it said the organization failed to disclose that the personal information residents entered into the group’s preregistration portal could be sold.
The city “strongly recommends” that any Philadelphia resident interested in receiving the vaccine register with the city’s portal, said Health Department spokesperson James Garrow.
In the meantime, Farley said that despite recently encouraging numbers, “our case counts are very high because our case counts were very high.”
Farley advised resident to eschew indoor social gatherings. “No indoor Super Bowl watch parties,” he said. “Those can be just as dangerous as Thanksgiving.”
Inquirer staff writers Kristen A. Graham and Melanie Burney, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.