Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf denied Wednesday that the Philadelphia suburbs have been shortchanged on vaccine allocation, in his first public comments about the dispute between the Department of Health and Southeastern Pennsylvania officials over whether the region has gotten its fair share of coronavirus shots.
Wolf’s remarks, in response to questions at a news briefing, added to the shifting messages from the state about assertions that the Southeastern Pennsylvania counties have gotten fewer vaccines per capita than other counties.
A Department of Health spokesperson said Monday that the state did not dispute an Inquirer data analysis or deny an undersupply. But state officials have also said the issue was mischaracterized and maintain that there is no systemic problem in the region and doses delivered per capita is not a good indicator of the equity of distribution.
When asked point-blank at a news conference whether the Philadelphia collar counties had been shorted, the governor replied with one word: “No.”
“I’ve seen the data” that the state has, Wolf said. He did not say whether he would make the data he referenced public, only saying that Southeastern Pennsylvania officials saw the numbers on a Sunday Zoom call with state officials.
County officials and lawmakers say those numbers were not just unconvincing, but unclear. They have not yet received a response from the Health Department to requests this week for clearer data, and their consternation and dissatisfaction continued Wednesday.
“I personally found it difficult to interpret,” Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chair Val Arkoosh, a physician, told reporters at a Wednesday afternoon briefing. She struggled to describe a graph used by the state, which was part of the data the governor referenced. “I don’t have the information from the state, and it’s been enormously frustrating. We’re just asking for simple transparency here.”
Added Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence: “I would encourage everyone to ask the Department of Health to explain it, and if you all understand it, you can explain it to us. It was as clear as mud.”
On Wednesday, while Wolf made his comments, Montgomery County’s leaders also said the four counties had not heard anything from his administration since jointly requesting more information on Monday.
“The next steps are in the Department of Health’s court,” said Arkoosh. “We are still waiting for a response.”
U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.), Delaware County Council, and state legislators planned to hold a news briefing Thursday afternoon to provide an update on communication with the state and speak about their concerns, according to the county.
The state has said many factors need to be considered before drawing conclusions about the region’s share of the state’s vaccine supply, including doses administered through federal partners, how many shots providers request, and how many people have been vaccinated.
“I think all the counties around Philadelphia have actually gotten inoculations at or above the state average,” Wolf said.
He was referencing the vaccine administration rate, which the Department of Health this week began saying was a key measurement of a state’s success. Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam has said the counties’ vaccine administration rate meets or exceeds the state’s average. By that metric, the counties are doing well.
But that statistic includes people who get shots outside their county of residence, and some have objected to it, saying it is not a good measure of supply or equity. Montgomery County commissioners said they’re concerned about the local vaccine supply for residents who can’t use the internet, don’t have cars, can’t travel for shots, or are otherwise vulnerable.
“It’s flat-out wrong to say that the vaccination rate makes it OK,” Lawrence said.
Montgomery County’s first-dose vaccine allocation has not changed, Arkoosh said. The county is ready to open a third mass vaccination site — and was hoping to do so next week — but does not have enough doses to do so.
Delaware County — which had the lowest per-capita dose delivery in the Inquirer analysis — received more shots this week compared to three weeks ago; the county did not yet know what the total number of first doses would be for next week but a spokesperson said the allocation was expected to remain the same for the next two weeks. Chester County’s allocation did not change, and Bucks County did not yet have the allocation numbers, according to spokespeople.