COVID-19 Updates from Senator Stefano

Since the beginning of the state rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine, I have been receiving dozens of calls from constituents with questions about the Wolf Administration and the PA Department of Health are developing.  I have been in constant contact with healthcare leaders and local officials in all three counties I serve to ensure that they are receiving the resources they need to do this essential service.

In an effort to help clarify some of the more common questions I have been hearing, I have collected a few of the most frequently asked questions our caucus is hearing all over the state and their respective answers to help constituents as they grapple with how the vaccine rollout will impact them and their loved ones.

Fayette County Vaccine Registry

I was thrilled to join the members of the Fayette County COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce as they unveiled the new vaccination registry during a press conference at the Uniontown Mall. Created by county technology contractor Ford Business Machines, the registry will be used to schedule citizens for upcoming clinics, ensuring all who wish to receive the vaccine will have access to it.

If you would like to sign up for the Fayette Vaccine Registry, you can complete this by:

Once submitted, information will be added to the list of vaccine requests. 

IF YOU DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO A COMPUTER, please call my office for assistance in signing up.  I have staff at my Connellsville office that would be happy to fill out the registration form on your behalf.  Call 724-626-1611 for assistance.

The task force is currently administering the vaccine to those eligible under Phase 1A and 1A+ classifications. Those who register will be contacted by a partner provider to schedule their vaccination appointment.  WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital clinics will continue throughout the week by scheduled appointment. Additional vaccination clinics are being established through Highlands Hospital and for our local veteran community.

All clinics are by appointment only and will focus entirely on Phase 1A and 1A+ classified citizens.

Directed by Fayette EMA and the Fayette Chamber of Commerce, the task force was created in January to ensure Fayette County residents have organized access to the COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes available.

Current partner providers include WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital, Highlands Hospital, Centerville Clinics, Cornerstone Care, Oak Valley Medical, Hunter Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Giant Eagle and Perry Drug.

For more information about the Fayette County COVID-19 Vaccination Task Force, access the latest official fact sheet at www.fayettecountypa.org. Vaccine details are also available at www.PA.gov.

Additionally, citizens may call the task force hotline at 724-466-4142, or email covidinfo@fcema.org to receive the most up-to-date vaccination information.

Somerset County Vaccine Information 

Healthcare providers and pharmacies in Somerset are beginning to announce their plans for distributing vaccines to groups and individuals in Phase 1A.  For the convenience of my constituents in Somerset County, we have compiled the following information regarding the distribution plans for healthcare providers in the county:

  • Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber
    • https://www.windbercare.org/patients-visitors/covid-19/
    • For up-to-date information regarding vaccines, please call 814-467-3013 to listen to a recording. Currently, the message directs healthcare workers and those who fall into Pennsylvania’s group 1A, who are interested in receiving the vaccine when it becomes available, to send their contact information via email to vaccine@windbercare.org to be placed on a list.
  • UPMC Somerset
    • This request process is ONLY for health care workers in phase 1A who are not affiliated with a hospital or health system, and cannot process other requests. UPMC is committed to making vaccine available to frontline health care workers of all types in the communities we serve.
    • Register at http://upmc.com/HealthCareVaccine
  • Mainline Pharmacy in Somerset
    • If you would like to be on the waiting list for COVID-19 vaccination, please email your name, age, occupation/medical conditions, and phone number to COVID@mainlinerx.com Please do not call. Individual stores do not have information regarding the vaccine.

My office will continue to update this information as more facilities prepare to distribute the vaccine in Somerset County.

Westmoreland County

Westmoreland County has compiled up-to-date information on vaccine distribution specific to their county.  The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed to Westmoreland County residents in a phased approach developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Their top priority is to get more vaccines to the residents of Westmoreland County as soon as possible.

The county is currently encouraging residents in the 1A category to contact pharmacies distributing the vaccine.  For a list of pharmacies please consult the List of Westmoreland County Vaccine Providers

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the latest plan released by the Department of Health?
    • The Department of Health released an updated version of the state’s ‘Interim Vaccine Plan’ (version 5).  The updated plan now aligns Pennsylvania with the federal recommendation to begin vaccinating seniors and those with chronic health conditions immediately.  Individuals age 65 and older and individuals age 16-64 with pre-existing conditions/chronic health conditions are part of phase 1A of the vaccine distribution plan.
  • What resources is the Department of Health providing Pennsylvanians who are looking for vaccines in their area?
    • The Department of Health is encouraging people looking for vaccine information in their area to use their eligibility quiz to walk through the vaccine eligibility process. This includes a map that provides information on vaccine providers and how to contact them. 
    • This list is updated regularly, but given the demand of vaccines it may not reflect current vaccine availability.
  • I keep hearing that the vaccine is available in phases, but what does that mean?
    • Based on the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), PA is following a phased distribution plan to vaccination.  PA’s plan can be viewed online (link below).  To see what phase Pennsylvania is currently in and what phase you will be eligible for the vaccine, visit the DOH COVID-19 Vaccine page.  On January 19, PA updated its vaccine distribution phase 1A to include those 65+ and with pre-existing medical conditions.  DOH’s FAQ on this expanded phase is available online (and link below).
  • My mother lives at home, when can she get a vaccine?
    • Per PA’s plan, individuals age 65 and older are now eligible to receive a vaccine in phase 1A – after hospital and health care personnel, nursing facilities, and first responders.  PA will be contracting with health care personnel and local pharmacists to administer the vaccine.  To find out when and where, complete the new DOH COVID-19 Vaccine Quiz online and locate a local vaccine provider to schedule your vaccination.
  • When can people with pre-existing health conditions get vaccinated?
    • The updated phase 1A now includes individuals age 65 and older as well as individuals 16-64 with chronic medical conditions.  PA’s plan includes the CDC’s definition of these conditions as follows:
      • Cancer
      • Chronic kidney disease
      • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
      • Down Syndrome
      • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
      • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant, blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
      • Obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 30 kg/m2 or higher but < 40 kg/m2)
      • Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
      • Pregnancy
      • Sickle cell disease
      • Smoking
      • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
    • These underlying conditions do not include the conditions that “might” cause someone to be at increased risk.  At this time, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for ages 16 and 17.
  • When will first responders get vaccinated?
    • First responders are part of phase 1 and PA has ordered hospitals/health systems to assist in administering vaccines to their local EMS/EMTs in phase 1A for health care workers.  Fire personnel and law enforcement are included in phase 1B as critical, essential non-medical workers.
  • When will nursing facility residents be vaccinated?
    • Nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities like personal care homes and assisted living residences will receive vaccine through the federal pharmacy partnership.  Federal distribution is through CVS and Walgreens and began in PA on December 28 to nursing facilities.  Beginning January 18, the FPP began vaccinating the staff and residents of personal care homes and assisted living residences.
  • How will independent living residents in a retirement community or continuing care retirement community (CCRC) receive their vaccine?
    • Independent living residents are not technically covered by the federal pharmacy partnership, even if they live on a campus or in a community with higher levels of care (nursing facility, personal care home, or assisted living residence).  These residents should utilize the vaccine provider map to locate a provider or pharmacy nearby to sign-up for their vaccine.
  • I am a private physician (or chiropractor, optometrist, counselor, therapist, etc.), how do I get my vaccine?
    • Beginning on January 6, 2021, DOH Secretary Dr. Levine issued an order requiring hospitals and health systems to assist community-based or unaffiliated health care personnel in being immunized.  Phase 1A health care workers should use PA’s new Vaccine Provider map (linked below) to find a local provider enrolled with the state to administer vaccine.  The map also notes whether or not the enrolled vaccine provider has vaccine doses to distribute.

Beginning on January 18, DOH launched its Retail Pharmacy Partnership so that local pharmacies can receive vaccine and assist us in vaccinating our Phase 1A health care workers.  The retail pharmacies include 110 TopCo member-owned retail locations (i.e. Giant, Price Chopper, Redner’s, ShopRite, Tops Markets, Wegman’s and Weis Markets) and 60 Rite Aid locations in areas across the state.  These pharmacies will also assist the state in offering vaccine to the next population phases (1B, 1C, and 2).

  • When can mental health care providers get vaccinated?
    • Mental health care providers, both residential and outpatient, are included in phase 1A.  They should consult the Vaccine Provider map to locate a local provider with vaccine.
  • What if they run out of vaccine for people to get their second dose?
    • The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose after 21 days from the first and the Moderna vaccine requires a second dose after 28 days.  As of January 15, the federal government is no longer withholding the second dose.  The federal government has reassured states that the manufacturers will have enough vaccine doses available for people to receive their second dose when necessary.
  • I’m healthy and live at home, when can I be vaccinated?
    • Vaccinating the general public is now part of phase 2 of the distribution plan.  Depending on how much vaccine is available and how quickly PA moves through phases 1A-1C, will determine how soon vaccine will be available for the general public.  The vaccine is voluntary.
  • Can my employer force me to get vaccinated?  What if I am a health care worker?
    • The vaccine is not required; however, employers and businesses could impose requirements for those choosing not to be vaccinated, such as safety precautions or other requirements.  Everyone, including health care workers, are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated by federal and state public health officials.
    • Federal ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rights allow for medical and religious exemptions from vaccination in Section K of the federal EEO laws.
  • When will school teachers get vaccinated?
    • Medical personnel at schools are included in 1A but those with non-medical direct student contact, such as teachers and staff, are part of phase 1B of the state distribution plan.
  • Are children able to get the vaccine?
    • Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is only approved for age 16 and older and the Moderna vaccine is only approved for age 18 and older.
  • Why are we using vaccines that have not been FDA-approved?  What is an EUA?
    • The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been FDA-approved through the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) process.  This is a process that the FDA uses to be responsive to public health crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic.  The FDA uses all of the available data and research done on the medical product or in this case, the vaccines, to determine its safety and analyze its efficacy in combatting the virus.  The EUAs are effective until the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration ends at which time the vaccine manufacturers can apply for full FDA-approval.  Click here for more information on the FDA process.
  • I heard that you have to wait two weeks after getting the second dose of the vaccine to see other people, is that true?
    • According to the CDC, it takes time for your body to build protection after any vaccination.  COVID-19 vaccines requiring two shots might not protect you from contracting the virus until a week or two after your second shot.  Additionally, until we have broader ‘herd immunity’, all mitigation efforts including avoiding crowds, wearing masks, social distancing, etc. will need to continue to combat the spread of the virus.

Other Useful Resources 

Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions

COVID-19 PA Interim Vaccine Plan (version 5)

COVID-19 Complaint Form

COVID-19 Vaccine Coverage FAQ

COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Enrollment

Federal Pharmacy Partnership (Vaccinating LTC Facilities) Fact Sheet

COVID-19 Vaccine Overview for Phase 1A health care personnel unaffiliated with hospital/health system

Pennsylvania Vaccine Provider Map

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine DOH Eligibility Quiz

Additional Questions? 

If you have any additional questions, or questions specific to your own situation, then please contact my office so a member of my staff can assist you.  You can reach them in Connellsville at 724-626-1611 or Somerset at 814-443-2053.  My offices are open from 8:30-4:30 every Monday through Friday.