Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

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

The day after a call between Southeastern Pa. lawmakers and the Department of Health, backlash grew among officials who say the region has not received its fair share of vaccine.

Patrica Tornetta, front right, and Anthony Tornetta, second from right, sign in to get vaccinated at the Suburban Community Hospital clinic in Norristown last month.
Patrica Tornetta, front right, and Anthony Tornetta, second from right, sign in to get vaccinated at the Suburban Community Hospital clinic in Norristown last month.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

The fight over vaccinating Philadelphia’s suburban counties intensified Monday, as Southeastern Pennsylvania politicians demanded that the state send more vaccine doses and the state Health Department indicated it had no plans to boost the region’s share.

The state has consistently doled out “far smaller amounts” of vaccine than requested by the four counties, the counties’ leaders said Monday as a backlash to a Sunday Zoom call the Department of Health held with the region’s officials grew.

The confusion worsened as the Department of Health conveyed shifting messages Monday afternoon. A Health Department spokesperson said in a news release that suggestions that the collar counties had not received their fair share of vaccine doses were “false accusations.” But when pressed for details at a news briefing a few minutes later, the spokesperson said the state was not denying there was an undersupply.

And despite a pledge by acting Health Secretary Alison Beam to gradually increase vaccine supply to shorted counties, it was not clear on Monday whether the Department of Health even knew which counties statewide needed such fixes. The state hasn’t completed an analysis that would identify which counties are receiving less than they should under the state’s allocation formula, spokesperson Barry Ciccocioppo said. The Department of Health could not name any counties that needed the help they had pledged to provide.

» READ MORE: Pa. health secretary says suburbs weren't under-supplied with COVID19 vaccine, but lawmakers still frustrated

The political fight over a public health issue affecting hundreds of thousands saw frustrations bubble over after weeks of queries about vaccine supplies — and, said local officials, weeks without answers or concrete solutions.

No one has as many COVID-19 shots as they want — federal supply remains limited. But an Inquirer data analysis revealed last week that the Philadelphia-area counties had received fewer doses per capita than other parts of the state. Even when the early weeks of the rollout — which Beam said skewed the data — are disregarded, an analysis of February alone shows not only that the Southeast ranks last in doses received per capita among all the state’s regions, but also that the disparity in allocations grew last month.

And in Bucks County, where state officials said there had been a data reporting issue, Marseglia, the county commissioner, said the problem was with the state’s software. Bucks County has been reporting its data every day, but the state has not been counting it, she said, saying it was “almost insulting” to hear that cited as an explanation on the call.

As the Department of Health told reporters there had never been an intentional undersupply, directed focus to vaccine administration rates, and reiterated talking points, representatives said they and their constituents were just looking for action.

“You know what, I really don’t care so much why, I just want to know: How is it going to be made better?” Scanlon said.

Taylor said Delaware County seniors are frustrated and want to know when more shots are coming.

“The chart shows we are lagging significantly behind where we should be,” Taylor said. “Now, what is the plan to make up for that deficit and keep us at that higher level where we should be?”

Staff graphics artist Chris A. Williams contributed to this article.