Pat Moore, with the Chester County Health Department, fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in West Chester. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Preparing to Administer the Coronavirus Vaccine
Pat Moore, with the Chester County Health Department, fills a syringe with Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in West Chester. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The lawmakers called for the appointment of a “vaccine czar” to oversee the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

HARRISBURG — A group of Democratic state lawmakers is urging Gov. Tom Wolf to change Pennsylvania’s coronavirus vaccine rollout plan and appoint a “vaccine czar” to oversee the program.

Fifteen state senators drafted a letter, dated Tuesday, to Wolf asking him to increase the state’s involvement in the distribution and administration of available vaccine doses. It is unclear whether the lawmakers sent the letter. State Sen. Christine Tartaglione posted the letter on Twitter and later deleted it.

Currently, Pennsylvania receives about 140,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines a week. The federal government sends the doses directly to healthcare providers, who are responsible for administering them to eligible individuals. 

While the lawmakers said they recognized the logistical challenges in vaccinating millions of Pennsylvanians, they were “concerned that this decentralized approach may not be conducive to the most effective administration of the program.” 

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said the state prefers a local approach to the vaccine rollout.

“They’ve all been our providers throughout this entire response,” Beam said in a news conference on Tuesday. “Allowing us to have that localized relationship really is the ultimate goal in making sure that Pennsylvanians continue to keep the interest in the vaccine.”

Wolf said a centralized system can have its own backlog and can run into bureaucratic red tape. 

“I think as each of these thousand entities ramp up their capacity to take calls and we get more supply of vaccine that this system will do a pretty good job,” Wolf said. “But there’s no question that we need to do a better job.”

Wolf said he is open to considering any idea or strategy that would move things forward in the right direction.

How Is the Vaccine Rollout Going in Pennsylvania?

As the fifth largest state, Pennsylvania has received the fifth highest number of vaccine doses (1.5 million). Healthcare facilities have vaccinated a total of 605,633 people (4.7% of the population).

The commonwealth currently ranks 37th among the states in the number of doses administered per 100,000 people, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Lawmakers’ Suggested Changes to the State’s Vaccine Rollout

The letter outlined a few key components the lawmakers thought a new program should have, including:

  • A vaccination czar whose sole job is to oversee the distribution and administration of available vaccine doses. The person should have experience in logistics and supply chain management. 
  • A state-run web portal for all Pennsylvanians to register for and schedule a vaccination appointment.
  • An allocation of weekly doses by county to the public and private providers within each area. Population and average age should be used as measures of need.
  • A weekly report of the number of doses received and administered.

The letter follows criticism from state Sen. Lindsey Williams, who said Pennsylvanians are confused and anxious about getting vaccinated.

“They deserve clearer communication and more concrete answers,” she wrote in a letter. She asked the state for a “transparent, clearly communicated, and efficient vaccine distribution plan.”

The Lawmakers Who Signed the Letter

  • Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Monroe counties
  • Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny and Westmoreland counties
  • Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware and Montgomery counties
  • Sen. Maria Collett, D-Bucks and Montgomery counties
  • Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny County
  • Sen. John Kane, D-Chester and Delaware counties
  • Sen. Katie Muth, D-Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties
  • Sen. John Sabatina, D-Philadelphia County
  • Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks County
  • Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia County
  • Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County
  • Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia County
  • Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia County
  • Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware and Philadelphia counties
  • Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny County

The Full Letter