Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Delaware County expects a boost in COVID-19 shots straight from Washington, not Harrisburg

After a fourth day without word from the state, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon announced that a bounty of coronavirus shots will flow into Delaware County through a federal program in the coming weeks.

Linda Lorino receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Tara Holahan in January at the opening of the Delaware County Wellness Center in Yeadon.
Linda Lorino receives the COVID-19 vaccine from Tara Holahan in January at the opening of the Delaware County Wellness Center in Yeadon.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

As officials from the Philadelphia suburbs went a fourth day without answers from the state Department of Health about the region’s vaccine supply, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) announced Thursday that a bounty of coronavirus shots will flow into Delaware County through a federal program in the coming weeks.

ChesPenn Health Services, an Eddystone-based Federally Qualified Health Center, will be getting “hundreds if not thousands of additional vaccines coming into the county,” Scanlon said — “not through the state, where we’ve had frustrations, but from the federal government.”

The influx, through a new federal program that sends vaccine to such centers, will be on top of what the county already receives from the state, according to Scanlon’s office, and will be directed to the most at-risk communities. ChesPenn will be included in the next round of the program’s partnerships, along with multiple health centers in Philadelphia and across the state, including in Pottstown, Reading, and Allentown.

Officials are also hoping to get the county chosen for a federal mass vaccination clinic, said County Council Vice Chair Monica Taylor.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Delaware County, where he is expected to tout the newly passed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

» READ MORE: Pa. seniors are ‘at their wit’s ends’ trying to get coronavirus vaccines

The announcements, made at a bipartisan county news conference attended by officials from all levels of government, came as county leaders and state lawmakers said they had not heard from the Pennsylvania Department of Health since a Zoom call on Sunday. The call was meant to address concerns that the counties were shortchanged on shots but instead frustrated the region’s officials.

Since, they have asked for concrete, clear data and a plan for making up any inequities. The Department of Health has not yet responded to at least three letters sent by different groups of lawmakers and county officials this week, according to officials.

Delaware County’s elected officials called on the Department of Health to promise that no counties will advance to phase 1B until all counties are ready to do so.

“We need an answer today, or no later than tomorrow,” State Sen. Anthony Williams said. “Just a direct answer.”

Bucks County Republican Rep. Frank Farry said separately on Thursday that he would push next week to move legislation directing how the Health Department distributes shots. Williams, a Democrat, also said the vaccine rollout would be “a very active frontline item amongst all our caucuses” when the legislature returns to Harrisburg next week.

Thursday marked a week since a dispute broke out between the southeastern counties and the Department of Health over vaccine allocation, with lawmakers and county officials clashing with the Wolf administration over its data and communication.

» READ MORE: ‘What is the plan?’ Suburban Pa. officials blast Dept. of Health over region’s vaccine supply as dispute intensifies

On Sunday, the Department of Health laid out a data-based defense meant to put the idea that the suburbs had been shortchanged to bed. Instead, many officials on the call came away believing the state’s data had confirmed problems in Delaware and Bucks Counties.

Data analyses by The Inquirer, which were not disputed by the state, showed that the southeast region has received fewer doses per capita than any other in Pennsylvania.

The Department of Health has been unable to provide data showing whether counties’ vaccine deliveries have roughly been meeting the state’s allocation index since it was implemented at the end of January. A spokesperson said the data analysis had not been done, indicating the department may not know which counties in the state are short on doses.

A Health Department spokesperson said Tuesday that the state was not denying an undersupply, though Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday there was not one. The governor said the suburban counties’ overall vaccine administration rates were on par with the state average.

Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam has also said no counties will move to the next distribution phase, known as 1B, ahead of others. But the Department of Health is not monitoring vaccine providers in real time to ensure they don’t jump ahead, The Inquirer reported Wednesday.

Williams, who has represented Philadelphia and Delaware Counties since 2006, said Thursday’s news conference was the first time he could remember an issue bringing together so many county officials from both sides of the aisle.

That alone “should suggest to those who are listening that there’s a problem,” he said. “The problem is now a crisis.”

Delaware County has received the least number of vaccine doses per capita of the four collar counties, according to an Inquirer analysis of state data and is the only one of the four that does not have its own health department.

Nearly 200,000 eligible residents remain on the county’s waiting list, Taylor said. While Delaware County received more doses this week, Taylor said she is “not positive” whether the boost was a result of the state quietly trying to fix an issue that the governor has denied exists, or simply of the federal and state vaccine supply increasing.

» READ MORE: Gov. Wolf adds to state’s murky messages on suburban vaccine supply with a denial, while Montco leaders say Health Dept. hasn't responded to county officials

Only four states have fully vaccinated fewer residents per capita than Pennsylvania, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins University, though several others are hovering around the same percentage. About 9.1% of the commonwealth’s population has been fully vaccinated, slightly below the national average of 10%.

More than 2.4 million first doses of the vaccine had been administered in the state as of Tuesday, and over 1.1 million people are fully vaccinated. The pace of vaccination increased last week, and the state ranks middling for the percentage of people given at least one shot, according to trackers from the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“If you want me to acknowledge that we need to do a better job, I’m there. We need to do a better job,” Wolf told reporters.

Farry said the week’s issues had eroded the public’s confidence in the vaccine rollout.

“We should be focused on making it better moving forward, and I kind of feel like we’re in a tug-of-war of who’s right and who’s wrong,” Farry said. “To me, just give us the information and get the shots in people’s arms.”

Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.