Getting COVID-19 Vaccines to Pennsylvania Residents


Jan 19, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine in a medical syringes at IU Health Bloomington, in Bloomington, Indiana, December 18, 2020, photo by Jeremy Hogan / SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Reuters

COVID-19 vaccine in a medical syringes at IU Health Bloomington, in Bloomington, Indiana, December 18, 2020

Photo by Jeremy Hogan / SOPA Images/Sipa USA/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on January 17, 2021.

To make sure residents at high risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes are vaccinated as soon as possible, Pennsylvania, the state Department of Health and the county health departments have a number of options that could speed the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

In the state, 750,000 doses have already been delivered, administered mainly by hospitals to their staff. To expand capacity to vaccinate health care personnel, the state requested that the federal government begin the Retail Pharmacy Partnership, which in Pennsylvania could provide resources for 170 pharmacy locations to administer vaccinations. Additionally, through the federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care, facility workers and residents have begun receiving vaccinations.

In order to vaccinate residents with high risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes in the next two months, primary care providers, pharmacies and public health organizations in Pennsylvania could administer a high volume of doses, on the order of 150,000 per week. Across the state, 500 vaccination stations may be needed.

Within Allegheny County, 50 vaccination stations may be needed for high-risk individuals. To create sufficient capacity, the state and county health departments could recruit or directly supply additional providers to increase capacity.

As the number of dispensing locations increases, county health departments could reduce the risk of spoilage by designating a location with ultra-low temperature storage to centrally hold Pfizer vaccine doses for local points of dispensing. Locations without ultra-low storage could hold only two or three days' supply of doses on premises and replenish.

Pennsylvania also could dedicate all resources necessary to establish capacity for populationwide vaccination by fall, to support in-person instruction at schools. While it may be necessary to vaccinate only 70% of a population to achieve herd immunity, establishing capacity for the whole population is a safe planning factor.

In Pennsylvania, 2,500 vaccination stations may be needed. The Retail Pharmacy Partnership could be expanded for populationwide vaccination, but there may still be a great need for additional capacity.

Allegheny County may need 250 vaccination stations. To reach this capacity, the county could set up mass vaccination centers, while health clinics and pharmacies continued with vaccinations. Across the county 2,100 full-time workers may be required.

Adam C. Resnick is a senior operations researcher at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

More About This Commentary

Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.