A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 sits on a table at Hartford Hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill) Pfizer Vaccine
A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 sits on a table at Hartford Hospital, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

“Today is an important day as we look toward the future,” said state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

Front-line workers who were vaccinated at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Monday morning were the first Pennsylvanians to get the new coronavirus vaccine.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said 83 hospitals across 66 counties will get direct shipments this week of 97,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Levine explained that those numbers don’t include Philadelphia, which is coordinating its own vaccine allotment with the federal government; the city is getting 13,650 doses this week.

“Today is an important day as we look toward the future,” Levine said, calling the news “tremendously exciting.”

However, she reiterated the point that Pennsylvanians still have to follow virus mitigation protocols because the general public might not get the vaccine until the spring or summer.

“Right now, more than ever, we need people to show personal and collective responsibility,” Levine said. “I am asking everybody to work with us. … if we all work together, we will be successful.”

The Latest Numbers

The virus continues to surge across the state. State health officials announced 18,000 new cases over the last two days. As of 7 a.m. Monday, 5,970 people in Pennsylvania were hospitalized with coronavirus-related issues. Of those, 1,227 were in intensive care units and 672 were on ventilators.

So far, 499,764 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus, and 12,565 have died from coronavirus-related illness.

“Each of those deaths represents a life lost too soon,” Levine said.

The state’s Early Warning Monitoring System Dashboard shows all 67 counties with substantial spread of the virus.

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Two counties, Bedford and Crawford, saw 30% of coronavirus tests come back positive from Dec. 4-10. Fifteen counties are above 20%. Statewide, the percent is 16.2, up from 14.4% a week earlier. 

Who is Getting Vaccinated

While front-line workers are being targeted this week, seniors will soon get vaccinated as well. 

Levine said that the rollout to nursing homes will be through CVS and Walgreens. 

The state will get additional doses each week. Levine said that the state doesn’t get much information from the federal government about the number of doses it will get or where they will go until very close to the distribution. 

However, the state’s plan has been in place for a while, with the first phase going to front-line workers and residents at long-term care facilities.

“We have to be realistic, as well,” Levine said. “It is going to take a significant period of time to roll out the vaccine through the three phases and to immunize the public.”

RELATED: A COVID Vaccine Could Be Weeks Away for Some Americans. Here’s What You Need to Know.

Levine said that the administration hasn’t decided when its staff members will get vaccinated yet.

“We haven’t made a decision about that,” she said.

The Vaccines

The Pfizer vaccine comes in two doses. Levine explained that each dose that goes out this week will be distributed, and that the federal government is keeping the second dose for those individuals until it’s time for their second dose.

“We don’t have to store it, the hospitals don’t have to store it,” Levine said.

The vaccines have to be stored at sub-zero temperatures, so holding the second doses back allows the hospitals to have more first doses available.

Levine also said that the Moderna vaccine could be approved next week and be distributed shortly thereafter. That will increase the number of people who can be vaccinated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.