Acting state Secretary of Health Alison Beam speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (Screenshot) Alison Beam
Acting state Secretary of Health Alison Beam speaks during a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. (Screenshot)

The mistake will affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who will have to wait an extra week or two to get their second dose of the vaccine.

HARRISBURG — State health officials have spent months saying second doses of the coronavirus vaccines were protected. 

They weren’t.

At least one Pennsylvania healthcare provider has been using second doses of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine as first doses, instead of setting them aside for patients like they were supposed to.

The mistake will affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who will have to wait an extra week or two to get their second dose of the vaccine, a wait that falls within CDC guidelines. It could also affect tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who will have to wait to get their first doses while the others receive their second doses.

State health officials aren’t saying which provider(s) made the mistake.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said during a news conference on Wednesday that state health officials weren’t going to concentrate on laying blame on anyone. 

“First, we wanted to make sure that a fix was in place,” said health department spokesperson Barry Ciccochioppo.

Who is Affected by This Problem With Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution?

The mistake affects only people who have received the Moderna vaccine. The same medicine is in both doses, so the shots will still be effective. The patients just might have to wait longer to get their second dose.

The mistake does not affect people who got the Pfizer vaccine.

Moving Forward With Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution

The healthcare providers who made the mistake will now contact the 30,000 to 60,000 affected patients to reschedule their appointments for second doses. 

Another 30,000 to 55,000 initial doses likely will be delayed as state health officials sort out the issue.

Beam said a centralized registry, which critics of the state’s rollout have been asking for, is not part of the plan to fix the problem.

She said the main issue is still supply and demand: The manufacturers’ and federal government’s supply doesn’t meet the state’s demand.

“Ultimately, it’s a scarcity of commodity,” she said. “We don’t have enough vaccines to go around.”

How Officials Discovered the Problem With Coronavirus Vaccine Distribution

While state health officials discovered the issue just this weekend, it has been occurring for weeks, according to Beam. 

“That’s what we’re still trying to get to the bottom of,” Ciccochioppo said.  

State health officials noticed the error when the request for second doses of the Moderna vaccine was 200,000 in one week; that is usually the request for both first and second doses in a week.

Ciccochioppo said the state, which never actually holds the vaccines, could have been more clear in its messaging to providers.

“They’re hearing from the state, ‘Don’t hold back, don’t hold back,’” Ciccochioppo said. “We should have been clearer, ‘Don’t hold back first doses.’”

The Coronavirus Vaccine Numbers So Far

Philadelphia gets a separate allotment of the vaccine from the rest of the state.

As of Wednesday, at least 1,470,037 people in Pennsylvania have received their initial doses. Of those, 511,642 have been fully vaccinated. Because of a lag in reporting, the actual number of people partially and completely vaccinated is higher.

Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout has been criticized for not being as effective as it could be.

As of Wednesday, the state has received the fifth most vaccines, but administered the sixth most doses. It ranks 41st in percent of doses administered.