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February 02, 2021

Philly expanding COVID-19 vaccination rollout to more pharmacies, mass clinics

With demand and frustrations high, health commissioner says the city is seeking to improve immunization efforts

Philadelphia's COVID-19 vaccine supply is expected to remain at its current rate through February, but the health department anticipates more pharmacies soon will be able to provide doses to eligible residents. Plus, additional mass vaccine clinics will be held by the city and local hospitals.

At this point, most vaccines have been administered by hospitals, federally qualified health centers and the mass vaccination clinics that have been taken over by the health department in the wake of its split with Philly Fighting COVID

The Black Doctors COVID Consortium also holds mass clinics and has begun to receive a larger number of vaccines, which is in line with Philadelphia's goal to ensure that distribution is done equitably.

But there are also 26 Rite Aid pharmacies in Philadelphia that have been receiving and administering COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers. Now that a large portion of this group has been covered, these pharmacies will begin to pivot to other groups, particularly those over the age of 75.

Three ShopRite and 20 Walgreens locations also will have COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks.

"Scheduling for that is going to go live later this week," Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said. "We will be contacting people who sign up on our vaccine interest form who are over the age of 75 by email and by phone."

The health department will provide private links from the pharmacies for people to schedule their appointments, or will otherwise assist those who need help scheduling their appointments.

The expanded rollout comes as the White House announced that it soon will begin a federal retail pharmacy program for COVID-19 vaccination

Farley said it's unclear how many additional doses the city will receive through this program, but the doses will be shipped directly to Rite Aid and ShopRite pharmacies, where they will be distributed based on local eligibility guidelines.

Another possible source for additional vaccines is the anticipated authorization of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, a single-dose shot that could become available in Philadelphia by early March. The company initially only will have 1 to 2 million doses to distribute nationally, meaning Philadelphia would likely receive about 7,500 doses, Farley said.

"This vaccine has the advantage that's it's only one dose instead of two," Farley said. "The disadvantage is that it doesn't appear as effective in preventing infection as the Moderna vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine. But it does appear to be quite effective for preventing serious disease."

Farley suggested it might make sense to distribute the Johnson & Johnson initial vaccine doses to homeless residents, who may be more difficult to reach for two doses of a vaccine.

The health department currently is in the process of holding second-dose vaccine clinics for the people affected by the Philly Fighting COVID fallout. A new series of vaccine clinics will be held beginning the week of Feb. 22.

These events will take place at several sites around the city and will include three first-dose clinics and three second-dose clinics per week, targeting about 500 patients per day. Those in Phase 1B who signed up for a vaccine using the city's interest form will be contacted by the health department if they are eligible for these clinics.

The health department also is encouraging hospitals to run additional mass clinics alongside what they are currently doing for their patients.

"The hospitals are making a transition between vaccinating their staff, which operated very quickly, to vaccinating their patients. We're learning that it's much slower to vaccinate patients in the way that they're doing it than when they vaccinate their staff," Farley said. "We're encouraging them to do additional mass clinics because they do have vaccine in storage. ... They're going to need to do that in order to spend down the vaccine they have."

Across Philadelphia, 105,306 people have received first doses and another 36,348 have received their second doses. At nursing homes, mobile teams have given vaccinations to 5,800 residents and 5,100 staff members, with more to follow.

The city expects to continue receiving 20,000 to 23,000 doses per week of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines through much of February. 

Farley reiterated that the city is committed to improving vaccine distribution in the weeks and months ahead.

"I realize that there are many, many people who want this vaccine and are having difficulty getting it. People are very frustrated by where we are," Farley said. "We have three guiding principles. We're trying to do this fast. We're trying to do this in the way that will save the most lives. And we're trying to do this with racial equity. Let me be clear, we have more to do in each of those areas. I do believe that we in the Department of Public Health can succeed in doing that."

COVID-19 cases continue to fall

Philadelphia reported 382 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the city's total to 106,976 since the start of the pandemic. Another 139 probable cases were reported from rapid antigen tests.

New cases have been falling in recent weeks, despite the local presence of variants that may be more infectious.

Last week, the city averaged 388 cases per day with a test positivity rate of 6.0%, based on currently available data. For the previous week, Jan. 17-23, the city averaged 424 cases per day with a test positivity rate of 6.7%.

"Those case counts are still high — we still need to take precautions — but it is good to see the downward trend," Farley said.

Twelve newly identified fatalities on Tuesday increased the city's death toll to 2,886.

"We peaked at over 100 deaths per week in December, but in January we're averaging about 80 deaths per week, and I believe that decline is because of the lower case counts," Farley said. "That's a good thing, but still, the number of deaths we're getting is far too high."

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