Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Screenshot) Rachel Levine
Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (Screenshot)

The state Secretary of Health laid out plans for distributing the vaccine in Pennsylvania.

If the development of the coronavirus vaccines continues at its current pace, Pennsylvanians could begin seeing the vaccine within a month, state Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said Thursday.

“We could have vaccines within the next month,” Levine said. 

That is welcome news as the state—and nation—continue to reach record numbers of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. 

The numbers are alarming. Heading into November, the state had never had 3,000 new cases in a single day. For the first time ever, it announced more than 7,000 new cases Thursday. 

Pennsylvania has averaged more than 4,300 a day since Nov. 1. November will have more than twice as many new cases as any month since the pandemic began. 

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While the state is testing more people than it did at the peak of the spring wave of the pandemic, the positivity rate of those tested is increasing today. According to the Department of Health, that number is 9.6%. 

The country passed the grim milestone of 250,000 deaths Wednesday.

Levine, however, was optimistic as she discussed the vaccines’ development and how the state will distribute it.

 “There was concern in the past about politicization of this process,” Levine said. “I feel very comfortable that there has been no politicalization of this process—that science has driven this process.”

She admitted it won’t be easy to distribute the vaccines, which will be in high demand.

“There may be a limited supply,” Levine said. “Not everyone will be able to get the vaccine right away.”

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Hospitals and health systems will distribute the vaccines in three phases.

The first will go to front-line workers at hospitals, first responders, and vulnerable populations like those over 65. 

The second phase will reach anyone in those vulnerable populations who weren’t vaccinated during the first phrase. The third phase will be broader public distribution.

Two factors are among several complications in distributing the vaccines: The first is that the two vaccines most likely to quickly reach the population, the ones from Pfizer and Moderna, will take more than two doses. The second is that the vaccines, particularly with the one from Pfizer must be stored at extremely cold temperatures.

The state is also looking for more funds from the federal government to help in the process. Congress already has sent $340 million to the states, Levine said, but that’s not enough.

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Some of the money the state needs is for communications, so it can explain that limited doses of the vaccine are available and why.

Levine added that the state will also have to “get past vaccine hesitancy.” 

She pointed out that so far the trials have shown little to no major side effects, just soreness where the shot is given and headaches.

While the process was expedited, shortcuts weren’t made around safety standards, she said. 

She pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control still have to review Pfizer’s and Moderna’s work.

“Only then will we get the vaccines,” she said.

While the public waits for the vaccines, Levine said, Pennsylvanians must continue to wear masks, wash their hands regularly, and practice social distancing.